EAPs alone cannot solve employee mental health problems, association says

Response follows criticism of ‘overstretched’ providers as wellbeing concerns rise and half of workers report having no access to resources

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The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) has urged employers to remember that employee assistance programmes (EAPs) were “never intended to be the whole solution” amid growing concerns about rising mental health problems. 

In a statement for World Mental Health Day today (10 October), Lou Campbell, employee counsellor, wellbeing coach and programmes director at Wellbeing Partners, claimed HR professionals have been forced to seek alternatives to “overstretched” employee assistance providers.

Campbell said many workers were being “palmed off” as a result, and HR teams were being called upon to support “distraught employees”. 

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However, Eugene Farrell, chair of EAPA, said that it was no detriment to EAPs to “acknowledge that they have their limits”. 

He added that EAPs were designed as “brief intervention counselling programmes” to support employees in the short term, and that they were still a valuable starting point when it came to mental health support, “without which many would perhaps not access the help they need”.

“Just because an EAP does not provide longer-term treatments, it does not mean that it is underperforming,” said Farrell.

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Emma Gage, wellbeing campaign manager at Business in the Community (BITC), highlighted that EAPs were underutilised as, according to BITC research, “less than 10 per cent of employees who experienced work-related poor mental health went to their EAP for help, compared to 14 per cent who contacted their line manager”. 

Helen Astill, HR services director at HR Solutions, also noted that the provision of an EAP for staff was “just one way an employer can support its employees”. She suggested that there was more that employers could do to help, and that HR teams should regularly signpost support.

The criticism comes as a recent analysis by MHR showed that three in five (62 per cent) employees believed their employer did not care about their mental wellbeing, with more than half (55 per cent) feeling pressured to hide their mental health concerns at work.

When considering the most effective help, a third (34 per cent) of respondents said financial support from their employer would be better for their wellbeing than flexible working.  

Andrew Filev, chief executive and founder of Wrike, said it was “critical that organisations set out detailed support strategies”, adding that they must “make mental health a priority” by promoting work-life balance and ensuring employee workloads were manageable. 

Chelsea Coates, chief people officer at GWI, said mental health support needed to be prioritised in the workplace through manager and leader training. “This means real, action-based support,” explained Coates, who added that “superficial strategies aren’t enough”, and that mental health training is key, as recent GWI data revealed that 34 per cent of employees wanted to see mental health training among senior managers. 

“A manager that’s had this training is much more likely to spot when a person is struggling with their mental health and put plans in place to best support them. The right level of understanding and training around mental health is no longer a nice to have but necessary,” she said.