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Is your EAP actually fit for purpose?

Chris Metcalf
October 25, 2023
min read

Employee Assistance Programs, commonly referred to as EAPs, are a widespread component of employee benefit packages. These programs are typically a hub of perks for employees, with an array of, on the face of it, amazing offerings such as private healthcare, ride-to-work schemes, retail and hospitality discounts and a range of free or discounted wellbeing apps and tech. 

Most medium to large employers will subscribe to an EAP, in an attempt to support their employees health and wellbeing - all well intentioned. However, after hundreds of discussions with employers about the mental health challenges they’re facing the pertinent question arises: do these programs truly meet their intended purpose?

In a recent conversation with a Human Resources Director at a prominent global bank, I was told of their underwhelming statistics surrounding EAP engagement. Shockingly, despite spending £17 per person per month on this provision, the average engagement rate for their EAP services hovers at a mere 6%. That’s total! So for every 100 employees, only 6 people engage with the support offered. 

You might wonder why, given that these solutions are marketed as the complete solution to enhance the individual employee’s well being without incurring personal costs. After over 5 years working in the space, and speaking to 100’s, if not 1000’s of both employers and employees about the support they receive, the same recurring themes emerge:

Difficult to access

Getting support as and when it’s needed is delayed by difficulty accessing the service, either requiring you to go through HR or screening by an intermediary. For people needing critical mental health care we’ve heard of many who were delayed and had wait times of over 6 weeks before receiving treatment. Unfortunately many EAP’s business model means that the less they are used, the more profitable they are. 

Questionable Support Tools 

Most tend to offer either a meditation app like Calm or Headspace and/or a handful of introductory face-to-face therapy sessions. However face-to-face sessions are often conditional, requiring screening, not having suffered prior and subject to an excess payment. Even with this, these options represent the two ends of the treatment spectrum, leaving many employees unable to relate to either.

Lack of trust 

Many employees worry that when using an EAP, their information won’t be kept confidential and they’ll be prejudiced with the stigma of needing mental health support by their employer. The truth is that some do require employer approval before treatment, so the reluctance to use them is understandable.

Reactive Support 

The support is often only accessed, or accessible when it's too late. Either a referral from HR when poor performance and absenteeism have been prolonged issues or when someone is at their lowest ebb and reaches out themselves, or via a loved one. When significant suffering, and costs, have been incurred.

Whilst these reasons aren’t exhaustive, they’re enough to raise the question - is the EAP model broken? If the majority of employees aren’t using the provision and the challenges they were put in to solve, such as workplace mental health and burnout, are getting worse; if not broken, there’s definitely lots of room for improvement. 

What I believe is truly needed are diverse solutions that encompass various treatment styles and intensities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving an individual's mental health and wellbeing. It requires different content, formats and intensity based on individual needs. It should be impartial from the employer, and be accessed in their own space, and at their own pace. 

We established imatta with the genuine intention of helping people feel better, through  preventative and complete support that’s sustainable. It’s about taking small, constructive steps and actions to stay in a positive frame of mind, habitually. We’re trying to transform the way people perceive and experience mental health worldwide. 

And the results so far speak for themselves. While traditional EAP utilisation hovers somewhere between 4 and 11%,  businesses utilising imatta witness an impressive uptake rate of at least 35%. That’s as much as 8x the number of employees getting assistance to improve their mental health or mental fitness.

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