Nearly every company in America (93%) offers an employee assistance program (EAP). And yet, almost half of American workers (46%) believe their employers do not offer an EAP or are unsure if they do.
(These eye-opening numbers are from a 2020 survey of over 1,200 working adults.)
Where’s the disconnect?
Rock-bottom EAP utilization rates have plagued employers for years. A 2018 study found the median EAP utilization to be 5.5%. Nevertheless, EAPs remain worthwhile investments for employers, with ROIs ranging from 3:1 to 9:1.
Still, most employers would like to boost participation in their EAPs — and not merely to justify the expense. As we reported at the kickoff of Mental Health Awareness Month, more than three-quarters of full-time workers report at least one symptom of a mental health condition.
EAPs are one way employers can help their employees manage their mental health issues. An EAP provides free access to qualified counseling (via phone or online video chat) on substance misuse, relationship challenges, trauma, stress, and other personal struggles. Employees’ spouses and children can typically use EAP resources, as well.
Why Your Employees Don’t Use Your EAP
Most of your employees have never used their EAP benefits. There are several reasons why.
Some employees may be concerned about their privacy, while others may prefer to seek help through their own networks. And unfortunately, a stigma around mental health issues persists in some workplaces (although it is fading), which may cause some employees to forgo seeking help altogether.
But, as the statistics we quoted at the beginning of this article show, the most common reason employees overlook their EAP is that they don’t know it exists and how it can help them.
The key to increasing EAP utilization within your organization, then, is developing an effective communication strategy. Your strategy should have two objectives:
- To inform employees about the existence of the EAP, its purpose, and how to access EAP resources.
- To clear up any misconceptions about the EAP and mental health care that might prevent your employees from using their benefits.
Here are some tips for promoting your EAP among your company’s employees:
Focus on the Fundamentals
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month theme is “Back to Basics,” which recognizes that, after two years of a taxing pandemic, we all could use a mental health reset. “Back to Basics” is also a useful way to think about mental health resources. We often assume people know what mental health resources are available to them, but this isn’t always the case.
If we’re being honest, we have to acknowledge that “employee assistance program” is a fairly generic moniker. And EAP (like many other acronyms in the human resources world) is even more meaningless to laypeople. If they are aware of your EAP at all, your employees may not understand basic facts about it, such as who it’s for and what exactly it “assists” with.
Many employees may believe the EAP is only for people struggling with substance issues, but modern EAPs cover a broad range of personal challenges, including relationship difficulties, financial problems, and eldercare.
As you build your EAP communications strategy for 2022, make sure to answer fundamental questions clearly and often. Focus your messaging on your EAP’s benefits. The phrase “employee assistance program” and the letters “EAP” may not even be necessary.
- Confusing messaging: “EAP Features for 2022.”
- Clear messaging focused on benefits: “Free expert help for your financial, relationship, substance, stress, and other life challenges.”
Create Easily-Accessible Online Resources
Employees may not be comfortable asking human resources for help using their EAP benefits. After all, the concerns EAP counselors address are often extremely sensitive, and as we noted above, many employees still feel a stigma around mental health issues.
You can ensure employees get the answers they need while preserving their privacy by offering a one-stop online resource for everything related to the EAP. This site can be a section within a comprehensive HR portal (if you have one) or a standalone microsite. Helpful features might include:
- A FAQ page
- Short explainer videos
- Links to login pages, apps, and other resources from your EAP vendor
- A way for employees to discreetly and anonymously ask questions and provide feedback
Communicate About Your EAP Throughout the Year
If your employees are only hearing about your company’s EAP once a year during open enrollment, it’s no wonder the information isn’t sinking in.
As open enrollment approaches, employees are typically inundated with documentation explaining all their benefits, from health care plans to retirement savings to wellness programs — on top of the constant stream of email and chat messages most workers contend with throughout the year.
It can be tough for your EAP messaging to rise above the information overload during open enrollment. You can keep your EAP top-of-mind for your employees by releasing information in quick, digestible bites throughout the year.
A year-round communications plan ensures your employees hear about their EAP when they are less distracted by their open enrollment decisions. Plus, experts say repetition supports knowledge retention.
Mental Health Awareness month is the perfect time to remind your employees about their EAP and answer any questions they may have. You can send out a mass email or try a visually-engaging digital postcard. Your EAP vendor might also be happy to hold a workshop or webinar reviewing the EAP’s features.
Year-round communication is an effective strategy for educating employees about their benefits and taking the pressure off HR during the open enrollment season. It’s not too late to launch a year-round benefits communications strategy for 2022. Click here for a calendar of topic ideas to share with your employees over the coming months.