Author Profile Picture

Gethin Nadin


Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

Read more about Gethin Nadin

Are employee assistance programmes worth the investment? 

Workplace Wellbeing Action Group members share collective opinions, advice and best practice for employers with, or considering buying, an Employee Assistance Programme in 2024.
person standing on hill during daytime: exploring the effectiveness of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)

The newly formed Workplace Wellbeing Action Group (WAGG) believes wellbeing should be formed from a well-rounded approach that will deliver a more successful and cohesive approach than Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) alone.

For over one hundred years, EAPs have been supporting employees with access to experts to help them with everything, from mental health to addiction. 

However, over the last few months these benefits have come under scrutiny. With accusations of calls from vulnerable people not being treated appropriately. 

As around three-quarters of employees in the UK now have access to a workplace EAP, the WWAG thinks it’s worth reviewing if your EAP meets the changing needs of your workforce while offering a respectable return on investment. 

It’s worth reviewing if your EAP meets the changing needs of your workforce

Is your EAP offering actually what you intended it for?

The WWAG believes there may be a misunderstanding of what an EAP is and what it can and can’t do. From employees themselves, but also procurement and those responsible for sourcing and managing the service. 

The Group thinkd the historic reasons for rolling out an EAP service may no longer meet the needs of employees. 

As employee’s wellbeing has, on the whole, deteriorated over the last decade, employees appear to be reaching out to their employers for more complex support than ever before. 

As a result, in many of these cases, the expectations of employees are not aligned to the services traditionally offered by EAP services. 

The WWAG questions whether the short-term solution focused model is appropriately supporting the changing preferences and longer-term relationship with mental health that its youngest employees are sharing. 

The Group believes there may be a dichotomy of which cohort of employees needs EAP-related services most, and which of them is the approver for this spend.

This may be leading to one group of employees making decisions that best suit their needs, but imposing those in groups with differing wants and needs. 

Support where the state isn’t

WWAG believes it’s important to view the challenges with the EAP model in the wider context of mental health support options and availability. 

NHS waiting lists for talking therapies have been high for many years, with the pandemic only exacerbating this. Many specialist services having waiting times of over 12 months. 

The digital or remote models that are becoming popular in EAP services and artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots have therefore been increasingly leant on as they are, by nature, more scalable. 

However, a fundamental criteria for the success of talking therapies is the therapeutic relationship and human connection. These are both harder to achieve through these modalities. 

Where the WWAG’s members have been able to introduce in-house and face-to-face counselling services within workplaces alongside EAPs, the Group has consistently seen far higher uptake and subsequent feedback.

It’s important to view the challenges with the EAP model in the wider context of mental health support options

Preventative vs reactive

Today, EAP’s are marketed with a revolutionised approach from passive, reactive care to professional clinical proactive support. 

We challenge whether an EAP is effectively utilised as a proactive, preventative measure versus reactive when responding to ill health.

Too often employees are signposted to EAPs after the warning signs are identified. Arguably this is reactive, not preventative. 

Where there is opportunity to use the EAP proactively is through empowering line managers to support workforce wellbeing. This can be done with regular wellbeing conversations and encouraging teams to access the additional resources provided by EAP’s. For example, physical exercise routines, diet sheets and personal wellbeing questionnaires.

Too often employees are signposted to EAPs after the warning signs are identified

Cost can’t be the overarching factor

Historically, EAPs were very price driven.Tthey got as low as £1 per employee per year, which is incredibly cheap! 

The WWAG believes that some of the issues with EAPs at present are driven by price conscious employers. Also, those impacted by economic uncertainty, particularly in the charitable sector where ROI is critical. 

If you’re entirely price driven when sourcing an EAP service and expect to get qualified counsellors and well-trained, experienced staff working for your EAP provider, choosing the cheapest may not be the savviest option.

In addition, it appears that some employers may be struggling to control costs when it comes to EAPs. 

One member of the WWAG worked for an employer that had driven such a low price for their EAP that at one point they went from charging £7k per month to £25k per month when utilisation hit 12%. 

This approach doesn’t allow EAPs to invest and innovate in-line with the fast-growing needs and wants of employers or employees. And it certainly doesn’t encourage employers to promote the service (or EAP account managers to support a utilisation drive). 

Some employers may be struggling to control costs when it comes to EAPs

Not all EAPs are created equal

As well as the employers that source and roll out an EAP benefit, there is a large cohort that get EAP services for free via other benefits like income protection. 

Employers should be aware that where the EAP offering is not the main service, it is likely that the provider has not been subject to the same due diligence that would be applied during the selection process for a singular and separate purchase. 

When seeking to select a new EAP provider, it is essential to focus on the end-to-end experience to design your criteria; challenging the potential provider to meet your organisation’s specific needs. 

For example, if you have a large and diverse population, can they offer services in different languages? If your organisation is made up of individuals that likely have children or caring responsibilities, can you extend the service to households or family members? 

Employers should review their EAP in line with the following:


Be clear with what you intend to achieve by choosing, or retaining EAP services.

How will it align with your wider organisational goals, your benefits strategy, your wellbeing strategy etc.? 

Global vs regional procurement

Procuring a global EAP comes with different considerations than procuring a regional EAP. 

For global solutions, what are the limitations of your provider? Are they providing a consistent service? Are they partnering with other providers to deliver this? Or are they a signpost only service in certain areas? Also, WHY might you be looking to move from a regional EAP to a global one? Is this for the benefit of the business or the employees?


Think about what data the EAP will provide you as the employer, as well as what support they provide for employees. 

You should have the ability to filter and drill down into the data. This will help identify hotspots to inform your wellbeing strategy. Frequency and/or interpretation of data may be important to you too.

Care Pathways

How will the EAP form part of your existing care pathways? Many employees will see the EAP as an access point to support. But if the EAP can’t provide the relevant support or you have more appropriate or complimentary support available, will the EAP signpost and provide links to these services?


Explore the different ways in which the services can be accessed and think about the demographic of your business. Explore the user journey and use the services yourself. An example being that neurodiverse users are far more likely to have issues with visual tracking and visual attention. How is the EAP website or app experience for them?

How will the EAP form part of your existing care pathways?


What’s the EAP provider got in the pipeline? Can they demonstrate how they’ve been innovative, share some of your wants and needs and see how they can support these? What are their value-adds and are they of use for your business? (More value-add does not mean the provider is better – what is valuable to your business and your people!).

An EAP cannot be the only way you offer support

When we review the successes and failures of EAPs it is important we do so with a holistic view. This means seeing them as only one part of an overall struggling system, where we have increasing mental health needs in the population and an increasingly stretched amount of support options available. 

If an EAP is positioned as being a service that can “assist” employees with various work-life matters, then it is the opinion of the WWAG that this is an acceptable positioning that will meet that expectation. 

However, the issue we see is where employers position their EAP as the main, or only way wellbeing is supported. 

This leads the EAP services to be the sole route for employees seeking complex support. It often isn’t effective at being a preventative measure. 

A silver bullet for wellbeing doesn’t exist, and an EAP service certainly isn’t it

No silver bullet

It is our opinion that a silver bullet for wellbeing doesn’t exist, and an EAP service certainly isn’t it. 

The WWAG advises that all workplace wellbeing intervention should be properly assessed. The majority of the Group raised questions over the validity of EAPs in 2024. 

The WWAG believes employers should carefully assess their current EAP provider and assess usage data. 

The Group also encourages employers to challenge their EAP providers on their own efficacy of evidence. 

If you enjoyed this, read: How to train managers to be better wellbeing leaders

Author Profile Picture
Gethin Nadin

Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

Read more from Gethin Nadin

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.