Wellbeing might have rocketed to the top of HR priority lists, but what evidence is there that all the HR energy and investment has led to a healthier or more engaged workforce? If anything, problems with ill-health – particularly stress and mental wellbeing – have become part of the ‘new normal’.
Employers have to bear much of the burden of the costs of ill-health. (The government’s Thriving at Work report put the cost of poor mental health to employers between £33bn and £42bn. And that was pre-pandemic). In turn, HR needs evidence for strategy making and building a case for wellbeing that stands up to discussions with the board.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are the most commonly used workforce health intervention in the UK, with around half of the workforce having access to one. Anecdotally, investment in EAPs translates into positive returns in terms of direct cost savings from reduced claims and indirectly through lower sickness absence. But until recently, few employers were able to collect evaluation data beyond take-up and satisfaction surveys.
An EAP return on investment (ROI) calculator, such as the one developed by the Institute for Employment Studies, means HR can get a snapshot of its ROI. It can also look at the potential impact of different models of services, changing the level of investment or pushing promotional activity. The data is then just the start. The results are an opportunity to start conversations on how an EAP can be more about prevention and creating a healthy, resilient culture.
Data released in February 2022 reveals that for every £1 spent on an EAP in the UK from October 2020 to October 2021, employers have seen an average ROI of £8, compared to a previous average of £7.27. Usage levels rose to 11.4 per cent, up from 10.4 per cent, and as a result, ROI also went up.
The evidence makes a clear point: more proactive interest from HR in managing its EAP offering and encouraging awareness among staff leads directly to higher ROI. In practice, that means making the role of an EAP for supporting health and wellbeing loud and clear in both digital content and physically around the workplace. Make use of every format possible: posters, flyers, emails, infographics and video clips. A proven approach is to focus on individual aspects of the EAP, and running campaigns around topical issues such as sleep, finances, family relationships and gender health.
Also make sure managers are flagging the EAP at each new stage in the employee’s journey, and not just waiting until there’s an obvious problem.
Eugene Farrell is chair of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA)