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Advantages and Disadvantages of Employee Assistance Programmes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Employment
Wordcount: 2806 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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What would be the benefits, practicalities and pitfalls of offering an employee assistance programme in an organisation?



The success of an organisation is to a large extent dependent on the wellbeing of the employees. The provision of Employee Assistant Programs (EAPs) for work-related problems has rapidly increased due to organisations recognising the value of EAPs to employee wellbeing and organisational functioning (EAPA, 2012). The essay at hand will discuss the benefits of EAPs at both an individual and an organisational level. Discussion will then focus on the practicalities of EAPs, including the communication of EAP services, access to EAP services, and evaluation of EAPs. Pitfalls will be reviewed concerning the problem with evaluating EAPs as well as EAPs failing to address organisational needs, in being a tertiary level intervention. This will bring me to the conclusion concerning why offering an EAP is effective to the functioning and wellbeing of both; the employees and the organisation.

Defining EAPs

In the face of increasing pressures at work, an increasing socio-economic climate and a competitive work-environment, in combination with personal issues, employees work performance is likely to be effected. EAPs provide a set of professional services which aim to improve and maintain the healthy functioning of the individual as well as address an organisations needs (EAPA, 2010). This is achieved through professional application of specialised knowledge concerning mental health (EAPA, 2010; EAPA, 2012). EAPs address and resolve a range of issues from marital and family issues to emotional stress and other personal issues that may impact on job performance (EAPA, 2012).EAPs are becoming an increasingly invaluable tool to organisations and thus its benefits, practicalities and pitfalls must be discussed to put forward the case for offering an EAP to an organisation.

Benefits of EAPs

The employee and employer are the key beneficiaries who gain from an EAP. The benefits for individuals using EAPs is the access to direct, confidential, short-term counselling. This can result in positive clinical change, including improvement in wellbeing and health (McLeod, 2001). Research shows positive change associated with EAPs, with average recovery across EAP services being 70.5% (CORE IMS, 2011). Increases in employee well-being translates to organisational improvements, such as reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, increased productivity and reduced stress in the workplace (Compon & McManus, 2015). To support, Attridge (2004) found that 57% of cases had improvements in work productivity and sickness absence rates were reduced by 60% (McLeod, 2008). EAPs also hold a financial benefit. Dainas and Marks (2000) found an overall 2:1 cost saving in favour of EAPs. Rothermel et al (2008) supports the cost effectiveness of EAPs, claiming that “a well-run EAP will provide positive return on investment”. Overall, the opportunity for confidential advice regarding work-related and personal problems can be merited as an ‘invaluable benefit’ to both the employee and the organisation (Bajorek, 2016), with the view held; the well-being of an employee can influence the organisation and vice versa. 

Practicalities of an EAP

Access to services:              A major practicality of EAPs concerns the rapid access to EAPs, particularly counselling services, with access being reported as granted within a few days (Hughes & Kinder, 2012). When comparing this to research which has reported one in five people wait for over a year to access therapy via the NHS and 68% who seek it are not offered support (Mind, 2010), investing in EAPs seem worthwhile to both the client and the organisation. Furthermore, research has highlighted that the majority of organisations provide ‘full EAPs’ including face-to-face, telephone and online services which highlights the ease of access to the services through the mode of the employees choice (Bajorek, 2016). Telephone and internet based EAP services are less intrusive, accessible at any time, and offer a more anonymous method of contacting the EAP professional. These services can remove the barriers associated with seeking support, allowing the service to be accessed by everyone (Masi et al, 2002). Access to an EAP, at the earliest opportunity, through mode of the employees own choice, holds practical implications in that employees can tackle personal issues, before the problem worsens, enabling employees to return to work faster, given its relative speed to access the service.

Communicating EAPs:

Another practicality of EAPs concerns the ease at which the programme can be communicated. Research has suggested that promotional efforts of the organisation is fundamental to EAP success. Azzone et al (2009) found that when employers extensively promoted EAPs, employees were more likely to use EAP services in contrast to organisations which had less vigorous promotion of EAPs. One aspect that ensures success of an EAP is the confidentiality of the services, which can emphasised by employers, in order to encourage utilisation of EAPs. Stigma and discrimination associated with personal issues has been a longstanding issue and so could play a part in discouraging employees to seek help. In support, Bajorek (2016) found that managers highlighted the confidentiality of the services when promoting the service as they understood this was a point of concern for employees. It is of opinion that the more employers recommend EAPs to employees, highlighting its confidential nature, the more the utilisation rate of EAPs will increase and in turn, stigma associated with seeking help will reduce.

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Evaluating EAPs:           Evaluation of EAPs are fundamental in measuring the practicality and effectiveness of the service (EAPA, 2012).The effect of EAPs are reflected in utilisation rates, in that it represents an estimate of the acceptability and perceived credibility of the services from the employees perspective, whilst for the organisation, utilisation rates highlight the extent to which EAPs are cost effective evidenced by reductions in absenteeism and enhanced productivity. Utilisation rates act a proxy indicator of effectiveness, in that high utilisation rates of an EAP can be an indication of the programmes success, whereas low utilisation rates can cause organisations to question whether the EAP is worth the costs (BACP, 2001). It seems reasonable to assume that employees will make use of an efficient and well-trusted EAP and their attitudes held towards EAPs regarding aspects like the confidentiality of the service, will be reflected in utilisation rates. However, methodological issues surround the validity of utilisation rates. Csiernik (2003) found that, 19 contrasting methods were used for measuring and calculating utilisation across 154 organisations. This suggests that researchers may not be measuring like for like, which makes it hard to compare utilisation rates. This is not to say increased utilisation rates are not a sign of EAP success, however, when reporting EAP utilisation it seems important for providers to deliver precise details in how utilisations rates were obtained and not to compare rates of utilisation based on different methods of calculations.


Why evaluating an EAP is difficult:

Carrying out a controlled study of EAPs that mimic the conditions of everyday service provisions is difficult to produce due to confidentiality issues. Kirk and Brown (2003) posit that providers are reluctant to allow research to be carried out due to issues with employee confidentiality. This limits the opportunities for effectively evaluating EAP service provision, hampering the ability to obtain organisational data such as workplace performance, sickness absence and turnover (McLeod, 2008). Moreover, EAP providers may resist attempts of evaluation due to possibility that results may not be favourable. Unfavourable results may reflect negatively on their programmes and their businesses and thus tend to be avoided. McLeod (2008) explains this as ‘commercial competition’ between EAP providers. Consequently, outcome research on EAPs has focused largely on self-report surveys of client satisfaction (Csiernik, 2003, Harris et al, 2002). McLeod (2008) notes that client satisfaction surveys fail to reflect the quality of the service and whether the service had positive impacts on the individuals wellbeing and organisational productivity, rather, measuring how professionally a service is delivered. Engaging in research compromises the wellbeing of the employee and as a result most organisations avoid it to maintain client anonymity (Csiernik, 2011). This creates barriers to evaluating EAPs and thus the true effectiveness of EAPs has been challenging to address, damaging EAP effectiveness.

Do EAPs bypass organisational benefits?                        Questions remain regarding whether EAPs work on an organisational level and thus question whether EAPs should be offered to an organisation. A marginal 6% of employees report that effective counselling leads to improved business strategy. In support, De Groot and Kiker (2003) observed that EAPs seemed to have little to no effect on job turnover levels and job satisfaction. Indeed, research has presented modest results regarding the effectiveness of EAPs at an organisational level (McLeod, 2010). This could be put down to the fact that EAPs are tertiary level interventions, which focus on treating the experience of stress (Copper & Cartwright, 1997). Unlike tertiary level interventions, primary prevention takes action to modify and eliminate sources of stress in the work environment through changing the organisation. Whilst organisations prefer to introduce EAPs due to ease and being less disruptive to business, they do not directly address the core issue and consequently fail to tackle the real problem. Indeed, tertiary level intervention could be argued as being insufficient in maintaining employee health and wellbeing, due to not recognising the primary causes of the issue and thus may be a factor explaining why the impact of EAPs on organisations is minimal. 

It seems reasonable to conclude that convincing evidence exists to suggest that EAPs are practical and beneficial in helping employees with personal issues, given their confidentiality and ease of access through the mode of their own choice (face-to-face, online or telephone). However, evaluation of EAP effectiveness has been modest at best due to confidentiality issues and reluctance of providers. Whilst EAPs are generally perceived to be an invaluable benefit to both employees and organisations, this does not mean that they should be exempt from evaluation to confirm that they are providing what they promised to provide to both the employees and the organisation.  Research should attempt to investigate the effectiveness of EAPs which move away from client satisfaction surveys in order to merit EAPs as effective at both an employee and organisational level.


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