Do you know how hard your EAP is working?

HR professionals need to understand the return their wellbeing resources are offering, says Paul Roberts

This is the year when wellbeing resilience became the pillar of organisational performance – and when the employee assistance programme (EAP) wasn’t just another benefit but an essential support service.

EAPs have been helping employees deal with the complexity of pandemic life – to untangle issues of finances, relationships, stress and mental health, and to stay focused, engaged and committed. They are a demonstration of the value of a good employer and part of a newly evolving psychological bond.

But how does HR know whether its EAP is working, its impact on wellbeing and whether there’s more it should be doing or can be doing?

The headline finding from the biggest dataset on EAP usage, impact and financial returns in the UK (2,000 calculations made via the EAPA UK return on investment (ROI) calculator since the beginning of 2019, representing anonymised information from four million employees) is that for every £1 spent on an EAP, employers see an average return on investment of £7.27. This is a basis for HR in all shapes and sizes of organisations to compare their own performance.

A 2020 Deloitte report, Mental health and employers: the case for refreshing investment, proposed that for every £1 spent on supporting their people’s mental health in general, employers, on average, get £5 back on their investment as a result of reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover. The calculator results therefore suggest that EAPs specifically may be playing a more significant role in delivering ROI, and a return from professional counselling services in particular.  

The figures also demonstrate a relatively high level of consistency of ROI around the £7.27 level: whatever size company, sector, geographic location or service used, an EAP is delivering substantial financial returns. There is a similar picture of consistency when it comes to usage. The average annual level of usage is 10.4 per cent of the workforce, demonstrating how the majority of organisations are making broader use of EAPs as a wellness service, for early intervention and prevention.

But there are also some telling differences. In a sector such as agriculture the average is £4.12 for every £1 spent, suggesting that where staff are less likely to be based centrally, without the same level of access to HR, employer communications and manager presence, there is going to be lower ROI. Lower usage, in this situation, appears to be related directly to fewer benefits. By contrast, in the transport/utilities sector results, the largest usage figure leads to the largest ROI. The data is evidence of how more proactive interest in an EAP, encouraging awareness among staff and being alert to the issue of maximising value and returns from an EAP, is in itself linked to higher ROI.

The argument is backed up by lower ROI for organisations operating across a national network of sites, an average of £6.61, when the assumption would be that large, national employers would see the biggest returns.

There is an important lesson here for the Covid environment and increases in home working and flexible arrangements: the importance of regular communications on EAPs; making full use of the available support from EAP providers in raising awareness; and ensuring that the role and range of EAP services is flagged at every key point in an employee’s career: when they move between roles, from full time to part time, or to flexible working.

HR needs to ensure its EAP is working in terms of what the most effective offering is for them and their employees, how it’s communicated and understood, the potential impact of trying different models of services, changing the level of investment or pushing promotional activity to up the levels of usage. Getting data is the start – the opportunity to start conversations and planning for how an EAP can contribute more, and be more about prevention and creating a healthy, resilient culture.

Paul Roberts is an executive board member of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA UK) and director of Enlighten