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What Is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) & What Are the Benefits?

  • Employee Benefits
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 06/14/2024

An employee uses an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for counseling

Table of Contents

Stress in and out of the workplace is a fact of life for many employees and business owners. In fact, more than one in four business and HR leaders (26%) said they are extremely or very stressed, and this increased to 35% of leaders feeling stressed at companies with 250 to 500 employees.1

Implementing employee resource programs can show how you value your team by easing some of the pressure of juggling priorities and reducing stress at work.

The acronym EAP stands for Employee Assistance Program. It is one example of how you can help employees respond to issues that contribute to stress. Stress may, in turn, adversely affect their work performance and morale. EAPs may help improve engagement and productivity and even reduce absenteeism and turnover.

Here’s a closer look at why you may want to consider working with an employee assistance provider to round out your employee benefits lineup.

What Is an EAP?

An EAP provides a confidential source for employees to find support and resources for certain challenges they face. The service is usually part of a larger benefits package and connects employees to assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services. Depending on the situation, employees can access certain services from the safety and privacy of their own home.

What Does an Employee Assistance Program Do and Why Is It Important?

An EAP plan aims to connect employees with resources for handling personal challenges that can impact their ability to manage stress and remain productive at work. EAPs can suggest resources that help with many needs, from mental health counseling to discounts on personal services such as childcare or insurance.

EAPs have trained representatives who can evaluate employees’ needs and connect them to resources to help with those needs. Whether recommending a counselor for EAP therapy or helping employees with financial plans to save for the future, the representatives who work with EAPs can quickly and efficiently go to work for your employees.

What Does EAP Coverage Include?

While the details of an individual program are identified in the plan documents, many EAPs provide critical support for serious issues. Some of the issues and services often included in an EAP are (but aren’t limited to):

  • Mental health programs: Anxiety, depression, grief, crisis intervention, and behavioral health issues such as addiction or eating disorders are some examples of issues supported through an EAP program for employees.
  • Health and caregiving: Besides managing their own health (e.g., establishing a fitness plan, getting nutrition guidance, or coping with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension), employees may face additional challenges like caring for a loved one. Through an EAP, employees can get help locating eldercare or daycare services, nursing homes, or even tracking down an in-network physician for a child going to school out-of-state.
  • Family services: Help is available with EAP marriage counseling services, family planning, child safety, physical or emotional abuse, and mediation.
  • Counseling referrals: One of the overarching benefits of an employee assistance program is having readily available, confidential support from qualified professionals for personal, family, and work-related issues. Counseling services can include assessments, remote short-term support, or referrals.
  • Substance abuse: Chemical dependency, addiction, alcoholism, gambling, and crisis intervention are a few examples where support from a qualified professional through the EAP can make a positive and potentially life-saving impact in an employee’s life.
  • Financial services: EAP services can connect employees with help to improve financial wellness — budgeting advice, achieving healthy spending habits, loan consolidation, debt repayment, setting up an emergency fund, and more.
  • Work issues: Navigating a career change, establishing a plan for professional development, managing workplace stress and responsibilities, making travel plans, or managing relationships with coworkers are all examples of how an EAP can help employees with work-related issues and help prevent or overcome burnout.

How Does an Employee Assistance Program Work?

The specific offerings of an EAP vary depending on the program plan documents. However, an EAP typically covers your employees and could also cover eligible household members, including a spouse, domestic partner, children, or other dependents.

EAPs often maintain a network of specialists who can help meet various needs, such as:

  • Legal firms
  • Childcare professionals
  • Elder care specialists
  • Nutritionists
  • Fitness experts

With an EAP, your employees and their qualified household members can access a confidential resource when crises or general life management questions arise.

The range of services may vary from on-call counselors and referrals to local resources that can help them solve their challenges. Members can also access a virtual library of free resources and online self-help tools. Access to care counselors is typically available 24/7, and communications are personal and confidential.

Benefits of Offering EAP

When life’s challenges outpace your employees’ ability to cope, it can negatively impact their performance and productivity. Having adequate support can help employees manage stress and solve problems, which may reduce the negative impact on the company’s bottom line and overall morale.

Stress Management

Employees nationwide are currently dealing with stress, whether it’s the lasting impact of the pandemic, working at home and contending with work/life balance, dealing with health issues, needing to take care of kids, or working long hours. In the 2023 Pulse of HR Survey, two-thirds of HR leaders said they were concerned about employee burnout. Your staff can use an employee assistance program to help employees control stress, even during these challenging times.

Decreased Absenteeism

Absenteeism and stress are closely related. When you add this to the many issues that may already be keeping employees from work—being caregivers or getting sick themselves—absenteeism can become a serious issue.

An EAP can help employees find resources that can help save them time and mitigate unhealthy stress levels. These tools can have positive impacts, such as improved time management and more energy throughout the workday.

Reduced Accidents and Fewer Workers’ Comp Claims

When employees can readily access resources that improve their health, manage problems, and reduce stress, their overall wellness can improve. Stress management can help employees be more productive and work smarter and safer, especially those involved in various forms of physical labor. Investing in an EAP may reduce accidents and could ultimately lower your workers’ compensation claims.

Affordable Resources

For many employers, providing healthcare coverage is one of the more costly components of a benefits package. A healthcare assistance service like an EAP can help manage that cost over the long term by providing the advice, support, and resources employees need to be physically and mentally healthier, thus helping to lower their healthcare claims over the long term. Additionally, an EAP can help employees be more efficient in managing their healthcare expenses.

Greater Employee Retention

Employees who are engaged and satisfied with their work tend to stick around longer. Not only can access to an EAP empower employees to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives, but offering an EAP as a benefit demonstrates that you care about their overall well-being, which can increase feelings of loyalty to your organization. Likewise, feeling stressed or overworked, an inability to achieve sufficient work/life balance, and not having access to resources are some of the reasons why employees choose to leave a job. An EAP, with its network of resources, functions to help employees better manage feelings and situations. When you consider the actual cost of losing an employee (impact on morale, productivity loss, cost of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding a new person), investing in an EAP to help support your retention efforts makes a lot of sense.

Other EAP Benefits to Employers

An employee assistance program offers additional benefits for employers. In some instances, EAPs can directly help a company resolve ongoing issues. Each program’s offerings are different, but certain programs will provide consultations to managers or executives on handling difficult workplace situations.

For example, an EAP can be used as a resource during employer/employee interactions. If a worker is experiencing performance issues or discloses personal problems to an employer, a referral to an EAP resource may be appropriate. However, it’s important to evaluate this from a policy standpoint and obtain expert HR or legal advice to ensure your strategy complies with relevant state and federal regulations.

An EAP can also help a business meet employees’ needs while staying within budget. Many employees and potential job candidates want various benefits, and an EAP is one way a smaller organization can remain competitive for top talent and retain valued staff once hired. It may be a good time to audit your employee benefits package to determine whether an EAP would benefit your organization.

What Are the Disadvantages of an EAP?

If counseling or therapy appointments are held “in-house” or within the confines of the business, employees may not feel as though they have complete confidentiality. Coworkers and management may notice when they are away from their desks or see them entering or leaving appointments. Employers can combat this disadvantage by partnering with an external counseling program so employees can maintain confidentiality and feel comfortable seeking services.

When offered by their employer, employees may feel reluctant to pursue services to help with personal struggles. It’s important to educate employees on the availability of EAP services and break down any stigma attached to seeking support for personal issues.

What Are the Steps for Launching a Successful EAP?

The most important step in launching a successful employee assistance program is identifying which services your employees need. To that end, employers looking to add an EAP to their existing benefits package should take the following steps.

1. Gather Employee Feedback

Your employees may be willing to share what they need most, especially if they understand that the information will help you improve company benefits offerings.

2. Explore EAP Provider Offerings

There are numerous EAP providers, each with its own unique plans and offering sets. By comparing several providers, you can narrow the field and identify which providers align with the services and benefits your employees seek.

3. Compare the Numbers

Each plan will have its own limitations on the number of covered employees, the number of services offered, and how often employees can access the service. By comparing these figures, you can calculate a rough annual cost to your organization.

4. Integrate With Your Existing Benefits Plan

Once you have chosen a plan, work with your employee assistance provider to integrate this service seamlessly into your existing benefits package.

How To Adopt an EAP Program at Your Business

From stress on the job to navigating an emergency, challenging situations can take a toll on individuals. Invest in an employee assistance program to help your staff get the support they need.

Ready to get started? An EAP is included as part of all Paychex HR Services offerings, and clients can get started by contacting their dedicated HR professional. If you’re evaluating your benefits plan on a broader scale or looking to switch providers, consider how Paychex can help you attract and keep an engaged and productive workforce.

Learn how a mentally healthy workplace is good for business and take steps today to improve the mental health of your employees. For additional resources, check out our mental health resource page.

Employee Assistance Program FAQs

  • What Are Some EAP Examples?

    What Are Some EAP Examples?

    Examples of EAP include resources or support for:

    • Family situations, such as divorce, adoption assistance, or childcare
    • Alcohol or substance use disorders
    • Personal training/exercise
    • Mental health counseling
    • Child or elder care
    • Relationship challenges
    • Financial or legal advice
    • Crisis intervention
    • Traumatic events
    • Work-related issues
  • How Much Does an Employee Assistance Program Cost?

    How Much Does an Employee Assistance Program Cost?

    When added to a larger employee benefits package, EAPs can come at a very reasonable cost to employers. While the exact figure will vary across providers and service offerings, many add-ons for EAP cost between 75 cents and $2 per member per month, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.2

    The exact costs will vary based on:

    • The number of employees covered
    • The number of services offered
    • Frequency of use
    • Chosen EAP provider
  • Does EAP Support Provide Confidentiality?

    Does EAP Support Provide Confidentiality?

    Yes, EAP support and all records containing identity, diagnosis, or treatment information are confidential. Limited, non-identifying data may be shared with employers to help them evaluate and improve employee EAP usage.

  • Is EAP Healthcare?

    Is EAP Healthcare?

    An EAP is not health insurance. However, a combination of a health insurance plan and an EAP could be helpful to your organization and appreciated by employees.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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