347,000 more employees turned to support from an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) between October 2020 and October 2021 compared with previous years.

The data comes from a new report Financial Returns on EAPs: the Pandemic Effect 2022, based on evidence from information provided by 3,200 HR professionals using the EAPA UK ROI calculator (www.eapa.org.uk/roi-calculator): the biggest data set on EAP usage, impact and financial returns in the UK, representing anonymised information from seven million employees. More than 1,000 calculations were made in the 2021 period.

As a consequence of the higher usage, employers are seeing a higher Return on Investment from their EAP. For every £1.00 spent on an EAP in the UK, employers have seen an average return on investment (ROI) of £8.00. This compares with a previous average of £7.27. 

There are important lessons here for HR when it comes to demonstrating the importance of employee wellbeing — and what HR, its wellbeing strategy and activities, is contributing.

Figures like these on EAP usage and ROI don’t convey the full reality of what’s been happening. Behind the numbers are some often painful human stories. We know from conversations with EAP providers that average calls now involve more complexity, more employees with multiple issues to deal with, combining work, relationships and mental health.

According to the report data, large employers in particular have seen huge increases in their EAP ROI. Up to 50% in some cases (for those with 5,000 or more staff, up on average from £8.43 to £12.75; and from £8.47 to £12.48 for the 1,000-5,000 employee group). This appears to be the result of higher levels of engagement with the EAP, following the best practice advice on how to get the best from an EAP:

1. Communicate:

An EAP is an important and valuable benefit – more so than ever before – and should be central to employee communications. The everyday role of an EAP for supporting health and wellbeing should be made loud and clear in both digital content and physically around the workplace.

That means making use of every format possible, posters, flyers, desk prompts and emails, but also infographics and video clips to get the message across about the range of services available and topics covered.

A proven approach for more effective comms is to focus on individual aspects of the EAP rather than the EAP as a whole, running campaigns around topical issues affecting employees – finances, sleep, stress, family relationships etc.

2. Encourage access:

Keep reminding staff about all the access points available to engage with an EAP: phone, online, chatroom, app. Different kinds of conversation are best for different people. Experiences from EAP providers suggests that more working from home has meant less privacy, and some employees feeling unable to speak to an EAP.

More providers have been building their stocks of online resources, videos, webinars and podcasts, to help employees during the Covid-19 period.

3. Have active managers:

Managers play a vital role in connecting their team members with the best support for them. They need to be alert to the needs of staff – the difference between someone having an ‘off day’ and needing particular help with an issue.

Managers need to be in a position to discuss the EAP during any one-to-ones with line reports, and make sure the EAP is being referenced regularly as part of conversations and not just when there’s an obvious problem. The EAP should be flagged at each new stage in the employee’s journey: induction, moving to a new role, a promotion, having a new manager etc.

4. Embed in standard materials:

The EAP should be omnipresent as part of the HR offering in an organisation, with an EAP service link included in all the standard HR materials: in the footer on letters to employees, emails and memos.

5. Benchmark:

Use the EAPA ROI calculator to check the progress of your organisation against others nationally, in the same region and same sector. Regular use means a way to provide a useful headline figure in management reporting, in budget discussions with Finance, and to explore the potential impact on ROI from making changes in levels of investment, awareness promotion and usage.

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