Guide Designed to Align EAPs with Employee, Business Needs

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 10, 2009

Workplaces can be a source of stress even in the best of times, but as more organizations lay off employees and the economy tightens like a vise, employers can turn for help to a new, free publication about getting the most out of employee assistance programs.

An Employer’s Guide to Employee Assistance Programs, an online resource from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), includes findings, recommendations and metrics for standardizing and improving how employers can align their EAP with employee needs and the organization’s business objectives.

At a time “when so many individuals are losing their homes [and] their savings and facing other kinds of economic distress,” EAPs can provide a helpline, said Anna Marsh, deputy director for the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The guide, which SAMHSA funded, was created because of “a continued lack of definition, coordination and the rigorous cost-impact assessment necessary for employers and their employees to understand and derive full benefit” from EAPs, said Helen Darling, NBGH president.

For example, employers rarely include EAPs in key business activities, the workgroup found. In addition, 78 percent of employers measure return on investment for HR functions; only 39 percent measure ROI for their EAP.

Organizations “are not subjecting their EAPs to the same rigorous evaluation or cost-impact assessment as they do other related programs. These gaps and inconsistencies leave room for standardization and quality improvement,” according to the guide, which includes ideas on measuring the effectiveness of an employer’s EAP.

Released March 4, 2009, the guide is the culmination of an almost two-year study conducted by a 27-member work group of EAP, behavioral and mental health service experts who looked at best practices and evidence-based approaches for the design and delivery of effective EAPs.

The group conducted an online survey of 42 of the NBGH’s corporate members about the current and future role of their EAPs. The NBGH is an association of more than 300 large employers, including 64 of the Fortune 100.

The guide includes various recommendations to employers for getting the most value out of their EAP, such as encouraging them to “clearly define their EAP scope of services.

“EAPs can provide an array of services, and employers need to work closely with EAP practitioners to design programs that align with the organization’s business goals,” the workgroup writes in the guide. If that’s not possible, employers need to be selective in choosing third-party EAP services.

Among other recommendations to employers:

  • Define your EAP’s strategic operational tasks, such as consulting, training and assisting an organization’s leadership in managing troubled employees or enhancing the work environment.
  • Limit duplication of EAP services with employee health plan benefits and other HR programs.
  • Create methods to quantify an EAP’s direct effect on organizational performance.
  • Know what credentials to look for in an EAP practitioner.

HR professionals should be talking about EAPs and their services to “normalize” them so people feel comfortable using them as a resource, said Paul Heck, a work group member and manager of Global Employee Assistance & Worklife Service for DuPont Co.

He was among the speakers at the news conference where the guide was made public.

“When they talk about it and don’t make a bit deal of it,” he said, “it’s one more thing the company does to provide for its people.”

He pointed to the need for “emotionally resilient” employees.

“We have all been impacted by the uncertainty and the ongoing challenges” of the current economic climate, he said.

Heck noted all the talk about planning for a pandemic.

“We have a pandemic,” he observed, it’s just not the flu.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at


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