Set Up an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can help your employees with personal or work-related problems, such as substance abuse, emotional distress, or occupational distress. Employees can contact an EAP counselor for free and receive short-term counseling, assessment, or referral.[1] You can set up an EAP for your workplace by searching for providers and determining which services you want. When comparing providers, look at more than price.


Finding Providers

  1. Ask other businesses for a referral. If you know another business owner, you can ask them who they use for their EAP. Ask whether they would recommend the provider and take down the contact information.
  2. Search online. Google “EAP service provider” and your location. Check to see if any providers are located near you.[2]
    • One benefit of checking online is that you can immediately scroll through the provider’s website to see if they offer the services you want.
  3. Use the EASNA directory. The Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) is a trade association of EAPs. They have an online directory you can use to search for an EAP provider in your area.

Deciding Which Services You Want

  1. Analyze what individual services you need. An EAP can provide help with many different employee problems. Make sure that any EAP you think of hiring offers the services you are looking for. Consider the following:[3]
    • Wellness program
    • Crisis counseling
    • Stress management
    • Referrals for child care or elder care
  2. Check if you want managerial services. EAPs can also provide managerial or supervisory services, which you may find attractive. Find out what the EAP offers and consider whether you need the following:
    • supervisor education and training
    • help with referring employees to the EAP
    • guidance on work performance review and discipline
    • support with implementing return-to-work policies or worker accommodation
    • management consulting
    • analysis of business team dynamics
  3. Determine if you need organizational services. Some EAPs provide services to support the entire organization or to smaller units in the organization. They may provide the following services:
    • Crisis event planning (such as for a natural disaster or violence)
    • Company-wide educational programs
    • Work with unions
    • Coordination with other benefit programs and services
    • Risk management
    • Disability management
  4. Check if you need administrative services. Some EAPs also provide your business with key administrative services. Consider whether you want these services, such as the following:
    • account management
    • customer service
    • website development
    • budgeting
    • professional development
    • staffing
    • creation of other policies and procedures
    • quality assurance

Researching Providers

  1. Analyze the provider’s experience. Check how long the provider has been in the business and how long they have been serving their current clients. Also ask for a list of references.[4] Be sure to call the references and ask what the companies like about the EAP and what they don’t.
    • Also ask if the reference has used another EAP before and how they compare.
  2. Ask about the availability of counselors. You’ll want EAP counselors to be available when your employees need them. Be sure to check when services are made available. For example, ask the following questions:[5]
    • How many staff members are available during typical business hours?
    • Can employees access the services after normal business hours?
    • Which services are made available after business hours?
    • How fast are telephone calls answered?
    • What is the call abandonment rate?
    • How many free counseling sessions are available for employees?
  3. Review the credentials of counselors. EAPs employ counselors for assessment and short-term counseling. You should ask about their credentials, such as the following:[6]
    • What educational credentials do they have? Many programs have counselors with at least a masters-level degree in social work or psychology.[7]
    • How many counselors are provided per employee?
    • Are counselors certified?
    • How many years of experience do counselors have?
  4. Ask how the provider communicates with employees. Figure out if you like how your employees can contact the provider. For example, must they call a toll-free number? Or will the provider have someone on-site who can meet with employees?[8]
    • Many younger workers today are much more comfortable with technology. If you have a young workforce, check whether the EAP offers online assessments, text messages, and support through email.
  5. Question how the provider makes referrals. Generally, EAP counselors provide only short-term consultations. They refer your employees to someone else for long-term treatment. Find out how the provider makes referrals.[9]
    • For example, how did they create their referral list? How often is it updated?
    • How does the EAP assure the quality of services provided by the referred professional? Do they review and monitor continuing treatment?
    • How does the EAP coordinate with insurance benefits when making referrals?
    • Does the EAP or a parent company have a financial interest in any program or facility in which it makes referrals?
  6. Investigate what workshops are offered. A good EAP should offer workshops on topics related to employee mental and physical health. Check what kinds of workshops the EAP offers. Also, ask if you can watch a sample workshop.
    • Younger, more tech-savvy employees might prefer to watch a podcast or a webinar. Make sure the provider delivers workshops in a way that works for your employees.
  7. Contact providers for a pricing information. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you should ask each EAP how it charges you. You may need to submit a Request for Proposal (RFP). There are many different fee arrangements, such as the following:
    • The fee might be tied to the level of use. If your employees use the service rarely, then your bill will be low. However, you might find it hard to budget for your EAP since you won’t know ahead of time how much you’ll pay.
    • You might pay a flat fee. Regardless of how much your employees use the program, you pay the same amount. A flat fee can make budgeting easy.
    • You might pay based on performance. This pricing strategy is rarely used. You and the EAP agree to tie payment to a set of metrics, such as employee satisfaction.

Notifying Employees of the Program

  1. Include the EAP in your company policies. To implement the EAP, you should create a company policy. You can find sample policies online. Also remember to revise other company policies to reflect the presence of the EAP. For example, your EAP is a resource for handling any of the following:
    • progressive discipline
    • sick leave
    • disability management
    • claims of employment discrimination
  2. Include a brochure during orientation. You should tell employees about your Employee Assistance Program during new employee orientation. Your EAP may also have a brochure you can distribute to new employees.
    • Also put the information in a new employee manual or handbook. This way, they can refer to the information later.
  3. Hang up posters. Put posters in all break rooms or in the hallways where employees will see them. Make sure the poster has the phone number or other contact information for the EAP. Call your EAP, who may have posters you can use.
  4. Speak positively about the program. A key factor for your EAP’s success will be how management speaks of the program. Remember to always speak positively and remember to emphasize the following:
    • The EAP is not a resource of last resort.
    • No problem is too small for the EAP. Encourage employees to seek assistance as soon as possible.
    • You’ve used the EAP. If management acknowledges that it has received help, then it can remove some of the stigma employees might have about receiving help for stress or mental health issues.
  5. Assure employees that EAP is confidential. Some employees may be understandably nervous about sharing personal or work-related problems with an EAP counselor. They may fear that the counselor will report back to their boss. You should explain to employees that their use of the program is confidential.
    • Continually remind your employees that the EAP does not keep an external record of their using the program, and what they share is confidential.[10]
    • Also emphasize that employees don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to use the program. They simply need to call a number or stop in and ask for help.
  6. Refer employees to the EAP. As an employer, the EAP helps you as well. If an employee is suffering from substance abuse or another addiction, you can refer the employee to your EAP to get help. Encouraging an employee to seek treatment can make your employee happier and more productive.
    • Sometimes, you might need to make visiting the EAP a requirement if the employee wants to keep their job. For example, if an employee has a violent outburst, you might make attendance required.
    • You might also schedule a meeting with an EAP counselor if you don’t know how to discipline an employee. The counselor can help you deal with expected reactions from your employees.
  7. Measure whether the plan has accomplished its objectives. You may have adopted an EAP for a particular reason. For example, you might have adopted it to speed-up the return of injured workers to the job or to reduce absenteeism.[11] You should assess whether the program has achieved its intended result and, if not, find out why.
    • Check whether employees are using the program. Your EAP provider should maintain statistics on usage, and can provide you with a report on request.[12]
    • You won’t know who has used the program, but you can know how often it has been used. Increase the program’s visibility with your employees if it isn’t being used enough.