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«About us Through its rigorous research programmes targeting organisations, cities, regions and economies, now and for future trends; The Work ...»

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Employee Assistance

Programmes (EAPs)

Supporting good work for UK


Dr Zofia Bajorek

About us

Through its rigorous research programmes targeting organisations, cities, regions and

economies, now and for future trends; The Work Foundation is a leading provider of analysis,

evaluation, policy advice and know-how in the UK and beyond.

The Work Foundation addresses the fundamental question of what Good Work means: this is

a complex and evolving concept. Good Work for all by necessity encapsulates the importance of productivity and skills needs, the consequences of technological innovation, and of good working practices. The impact of local economic development, of potential disrupters to work from wider-economic governmental and societal pressures, as well as the businessneeds of different types of organisations can all influence our understanding of what makes work good. Central to the concept of Good Work is how these and other factors impact on the well-being of the individual whether in employment or seeking to enter the workforce.

For further details, please visit www.theworkfoundation.com.

Acknowledgments The author would like to thank colleagues at The Work Foundation for their work on this project, Helen Sheldon, David Shoesmith and Stephanie Scott-Davies. They would also like to thank the HR managers and EAP providers who participated in the research through the online surveys and interviews.

Foreword Over the past decade there has been an increase in our understanding of the importance of improving workplace health and wellbeing. Although some sickness absence from work is unavoidable, creating the right work conditions, or ‘good work’ can improve employee wellbeing, and consequently improve sickness absence levels. Initiatives to help reduce the stigma regarding mental health at work have developed alongside this concept of good work and have been helped by the younger members of our Royal Family in their campaign to get people talking to end the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing, to raise awareness of the issues, and to encourage people in all circumstances to seek help.

In the workplace, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are one method through which the workforce are able to seek help on both work and non-work related issues that can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of employees. In Dame Carol Black’s and David Frost’s sickness absence review (2011), EAPs were shown to be valued by employers and employees, to reduce absence and were ‘relatively inexpensive to provide’ (page 48). As such, one of recommendations from their report was that tax relief on EAPs should be retained.

This piece of research was commissioned by UK EAPA to help further our understanding of the role of EAPs in the workplace, discuss how EAPs are perceived and valued by staff and whether there is any evidence that calculations of economic utility are undertaken. If EAPs can help to further develop ‘good work’, then knowledge regarding how they can be improved to increase their outreach and the impact they can have on employee and organisational wellbeing is welcomed to help secure their role in the future.

Paul Roberts Executive Board Member UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association Executive Summary Over the last decade progress has been made in the understanding that work, especially good work is good for health, and that good employee health is good for business. As employees are an organisation’s most valuable asset, a shift is needed in workplace attitudes to ensure that preventing ill-health at work becomes a priority.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are a set of services designed to improve and/ or maintain the productivity and healthy functioning of the workplace and aim to address organisational productivity and help employees identify and resolve both work and non-work related personal issues. Literature suggests that a standardised model of EAPs does not exist (although core components of effective EAPs have been identified), that EAPs can vary in the scope that they cover and whether they are implemented internally and externally to an organisation.

Since their introduction to the UK, the EAP market has grown rapidly and EAPs have been ranked as one of the most popular core employee benefits that an organisation can provide however, there has been very little research focussing specifically on UK EAP effectiveness.

There is convincing evidence to suggest that workplace counselling can be effective for helping to improve the health and wellbeing of employees and has reduced levels of sickness absence, although the research undertaken to date has lacked methodological rigour and/or appropriate evaluative design. There have also been attempts to measure the economic benefits of EAPs, as the provision of EAPs is not currently a core part of business operandi and so EAPs can be viewed as an additional cost for employers. To date, there are only a limited number of research studies looking at economic utility and return-on-investment, in general suggesting that EAPs do cover their costs, although conclusions regarding return-on-investment over time are yet to be answered.

The main objectives of the research included undertaking background, state of the market research into EAP provision and use in UK organisations, as well as to examine the present evidence of organisations conducting economic utility calculations or return-on-investments for EAPs. The methods used to meet these objectives included an online survey of HR Managers (78 respondents) and EAP Providers (11 respondents), and in-depth interviews with EAP Contract/ HR Managers (10 participants).

A summary of the key results include:

• EAPs were viewed as an important investment for organisational health and wellbeing plans, and managers reported that implementing EAPs was seen as ‘good employment practice’.

However, EAPs were often implemented alongside other organisational health and wellbeing initiatives (e.g. Occupational Health (OH), resilience training, healthy eating initiatives, etc.).

• ‘A comprehensive EAP’ (including EAP telephone services, online and face-to-face counselling) was preferred by HR Managers, with the telephone service reported as the most common method through which service users contacted EAPs.

• Both survey and interview respondents highlighted that work-related stress was the most common reason for contacting the EAP, with other popular issues including: depression, family events and anxiety. Other work-related issues included difficulties with line managers, changes in work roles and redundancy.

• HR Managers were asked to discuss what they perceived the value of the EAPs were for employees, with responses centred around the importance of having an independent, confidential, professional service, providing high quality advice. For others an EAP was considered to be akin to an ‘insurance policy’ and its true value was only realised when the service was used.

• HR Managers often noted how EAP usage could increase if there were improvements in how the service was promoted. Organisations mentioned current promotion practices including: posters, leaflets, intranet and inductions. Barriers to promotion included limited website prominence and that EAPs were often perceived as a ‘counselling service’ and the other areas through which an EAP could provide help were not often discussed or promoted.

Line managers and EAP Providers were considered to be means through which the service promotion could be improved.

• Measures of EAP service quality included: staff ratings, the number of closed cases and provider feedback. It was acknowledged that these methods of evaluation were ‘ad hoc’ rather than systematic evaluations, but were relied upon as a result of the difficulties associated with undertaking EAP evaluations (e.g. confidentiality, measuring intangible benefits, appropriate outcome measures, etc.).

• The majority of respondents had not calculated any financial evaluations of their EAPs, usually because the service was described as something ‘good to have’ and there was no need to justify the implementation of EAPs to senior management or the finance directors.

Some interview respondents recognised that they should undertake financial evaluations of the service, but did not know an appropriate methodology through which to calculate this.

• The future of EAP use was positive with HR Managers reporting their likelihood of keeping the service, although some noted that they may change their service provider. In these cases the level of service quality was considered to be more important than service costs.

• The level of EAP Provider data collected limited the level of data analysis possible. However one important finding revolved around the different methods through which ‘service use’ was measured, suggesting that this should be standardised to aid future evaluations of the state of the EAP market.

A number of recommendations regarding how EAPs can be improved from a number of key

stakeholders have been made:


• To improve their visibility

• Encourage EAP Providers to engage in research

• Ensure EAPs collect up-to-date data to aid future EAP research

• To develop a standardised measure of EAP use

EAP Providers:

• Appropriately train their account managers

• Recognise their role in EAP promotion Organisations/HR Managers

• Improve methods of EAP promotion including line management engagement

• Create a culture where EAPs are accepted – reduce stigma

• Develop methods through which service confidentiality is explained

–  –  –

Appendix 3 HR Manager Interview Schedule 61 Introduction Mental health problems in the UK are increasingly becoming a common cause of long-term and short-term sickness absence, with the latest ONS statistics showing that stress, anxiety and depression were the cause of at least 15 million days of sickness absence (ONS, 2014). This ill health in the working age population can represent an economic burden for both organisations and society as a result of increased healthcare costs, an increase in welfare payments, lost organisational productivity and, if untreated, increases in long-term sickness absence (Bajorek et al, 2014). Buon and Taylor (2007) claimed that successful organisations tend to be those committed to aiding employees manage and deal with their health problems, and, over the last decades progress has been made in improving our understanding that work is an important determinant of health, and that the provision of ‘good work’ is good for health (Parker and Bevan, 2011).

In her 2008 report, ‘Working for a healthier tomorrow’, Dame Carol Black provided evidence to suggest that good employee health is good business, and that improved workplace health could generate both organisational and government cost savings. The review also suggested that a shift in workplace attitudes would be necessary to ensure that both employers and employees recognise the importance of preventing ill-health at work, and the key priority that the workplace has in promoting good health (Bajorek et al., 2014). Human Resources literature has emphasised that an organisation’s employees are its most valuable asset (Compton and McManus, 2015), with Vaughn-Jones and Barham (2010), highlighting that employees in good health can be up to three times more productive then those in poor health, experience fewer motivational problems, are more resilient to change and are more likely to be engaged with the business’s priorities, therefore indicating how the health of employees is a major factor in an organisations competitiveness.

Highley and Cooper (1994) reported that organisations have to recognise that by helping employees cope with stress, anxiety and depression in the work environment many help to reduce absenteeism, improve staff morale and boost organisational productivity. Thus it could therefore be argued that if organisations placed greater investment in early prevention, sign-posting and timely referrals to employees in the workplace, then this would make good business sense. Dewe (1994) reported that there had been an ‘explosion of interest’ (page 21) in organisational health and wellness programmes, and described how interventions could be introduced at a number of levels. For example, interventions can aim to alter employee working conditions; a second approach is to provide stress management training, but such programmes may not work as they may treat all people alike, and assume that their issues are similarly related. The third approach is to see the individual in relation to the work environment, and it is at this level where Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are considered to be important.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)

EAP history, definition and utilisation Arthur (2000) commented that EAPs were a relatively new type of counselling provided by UK employers, but the EAP history is usually associated with American attempts to deal with alcohol abuse in the workplace during the 19th and 20th centuries. As employers’ concerns about alcoholism amongst workers continued and increased, programmes were needed to treat the problems caused by this (e.g. emotional, mental and financial) – these services became known as Occupational Alcohol Programmes (Kemp, 1994). Newton (1999), reported that throughout the Hawthorne Studies on worker productivity, when employees were interviewed and able to express themselves, voice opinions and formulate complaints, there was, as a result a renewed rigour for their work and a reduction in reported tension. As a result, Western Electric (where the Hawthorne Studies were conducted), employed counsellors to help employees adjust to personal and psychological situations, as well as benefit organisational productivity.

The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) defined EAPs as:

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