Employee assistance programs (EAP) help employees with alcohol problems, other addictions, and mental health issues. They also may address financial and legal problems, child care, aging issues, career counseling, and other personal problems that may have a negative impact on job performance.
Most employees who use an EAP are self-referred. But employees do not always initiate use of EAP services. Sometimes an employee with alcohol, drug, or mental health problems is referred to an EAP by a supervisor because of poor job performance. Supervisors, working in consultation with employee assistance professionals, present the employee with evidence of her poor performance and warn her that disciplinary action (including the possibility of termination) will be taken if her work does not improve. Such interventions often lead the employee to seek treatment with a subsequent improvement in performance.
When an employee gets help from an EAP, assistance professionals usually conduct a complete assessment, including evaluation of potentially hidden problems like problematic alcohol use or depression. When necessary, the provider makes a referral to specialized treatment. In some cases, an EAP will also provide short-term counseling.
How EAP Services are Paid
Most EAP vendors charge for their services on a per capita basis. Annual fees of $12 to $30 per employee are common. This risk-sharing arrangement is used because an EAP cannot know how many employees will actually use the services (although usage rates of 3-5 percent are the industry norm). But it is possible to contract with an EAP provider for services used (generally at an hourly rate). According to some experts, this arrangement may provide a better incentive for the provider to identify and help employees in need – and result in more effective services that provide a better return on investment (Collins, 2001).
Types of EAPs
There are two main types of EAPs:
- Management or member-sponsored EAPs are offered by employers or organizations like trade unions.
- Peer assistance programs train peers to work with troubled employees to solve substance use and other problems.
- Members of the Society for Human Resource Management can use the Society’s EAP toolkit to learn more about the types of programs available. To access the toolkit or learn more about the Society.
- The Employee Assistance Professionals Association offers an online guide to EAP services.
- The US Department of Labor’s Working Partners program provides information about EAP issues.
- The Division of Workplace Programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), provides a wide range of information about drug-free workplace issues, including “Employer Tipsheet #8: Employee Assistance Programs,”.
- SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention offers help with substance abuse issues (including EAPs).
Finding a Local Provider
- Check local directories for EAPs and drug abuse information and treatment centers.
- Chambers of commerce, trade associations or other employers may have information about EAP providers.
- Call local hospitals and ask about EAP services.
- Contact a health maintenance organization (HMO) that provides alcohol and other drug abuse treatment services.
- Your insurance carrier may have information about EAP providers.
Contracting with a Provider
Hiring an EAP provider should be approached like any other purchasing decision. Request proposals from a few different vendors. Evaluate their qualifications. Accreditation and certification are an important part of qualifications, but there is no single standard for how providers are monitored. The Employee Assistance Professionals Association and most states manage credentials and licenses for individuals. Programs are accredited by the Employee Assistance Society of North America, the Council on Accreditation, the Committee on Accreditation for Rehabilitative Facilities, and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (Prochaska, 2003).
Finally, be sure to include performance standards in your contract with the provider. The two most important measures of EAP performance are:
- the number of employees receiving counseling (benchmark: 2-4 percent of eligible employees), and
- the percentage of counseling cases referred by a supervisor (benchmark: 15 percent of eligible employees).