A secret for hiring and retaining top talent: Your EAP

  • Date posted

    Apr 26, 2024

  • Reading time

    5 minutes

  • Guest Blogger

    Ben Schultz, Navigate's People and Culture Business Partner

A secret for hiring and retaining top talent: Your EAP

Anyone who applied to a new job or has been a part of the hiring process in the last few months/years has probably noticed it is increasingly difficult, and there are two leading causes: fewer jobs and increased attention on benefit offerings. Employers are hyper-focusing on retaining talent and are not able to hire as many employees. Job seekers want employers who will provide exceptional benefits to help them in all areas of life. As organizations are adjusting to the changing landscape of hiring, retention, and employee benefits, there is one solution that sticks out for helping employers attract and retain top talent: the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), often underutilized and misunderstood. To help explain why this benefit can play a massive role in employee relations, let’s look at common EAP benefits, the underutilization problem, and what can be done.

What are the benefits of an EAP?

When you read EAP, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you think therapy or counseling, you are not alone. Most employees associate EAPs strictly with mental health resources. While that is a large part of EAP resources, employees are missing some of the additional benefits offered through EAPs. Many providers now cover services such as legal assistance, identity theft, taking care of aging family members, financial advice, 24/7 crisis intervention, and, in our increasingly digital world, connection to these resources virtually. All these resources are geared to help prevent stress, anxiety, or depression from developing, and the impact on the business is noticeable. A 2020 University of Maryland Baltimore study reported a return on investment for EAP services of $5.19 per $1 spent by the employer. It has never been easier to connect to these resources as an employee, and it is a crucial tool for a business to increase productivity and retention and decreasing absenteeism, a win-win. When you put it like that, who wouldn’t want to use it?

The underutilization problem

A 2019 report from the Society for Human Resource Management Management reports that 79% of surveyed employers offered an EAP. The figures fluctuate depending on where you get your data, but roughly agree that around 70-90% of employers offer an EAP, covering around 50-60% of the workforce. Clearly, this benefit is something most businesses with the means to provide it believe in offering to their employees. One simple look at utilization data shows that employees are not getting the message, though. Figures vary between 5-10% utilization (even since COVID), and while the numbers increased slightly during COVID, it has not signaled a significant, lasting change. I’m sure we can all think of someone at work who was noticeably stressed due to additional responsibilities at home taking care of elderly family members, a pending legal issue, financial concerns, etc., or who ended up quitting because they couldn’t handle the additional stress these issues caused. So, why don’t these people just…use the EAP? In a 2021 study of EAP utilization among public health workers, the top three reasons respondents gave for not utilizing the EAP when they wanted to were difficulty accessing the EAP, the use of external services, and a lack of knowledge, leading to the big question…

What can we do?

Low utilization of EAPs is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that employers and HR leaders should consider. Increasing EAP utilization even incrementally could offer huge benefits for your workers and the workplace, so how can we drive employees to the EAP?

General education

If someone asked you what services your EAP provides, would you be able to answer? What about the question of the cost of services? Could you even name your EAP provider? You are not alone if you can’t answer all or any of these questions. Before we can expect our employees to use the benefits provided, we must ensure they know all its benefits. Employees should understand if their EAP offers legal consultations, assistance with elderly family members, identity theft, financial advice, etc. Knowing what is offered is just as important as knowing how much it costs. If employees get free consultations, it should be explicitly called out in all education sessions and materials. Employees should also be reminded of the confidentiality of the program.

The best part about educating employees is that you don’t have to do it yourself. Ask your EAP provider if they have a representative who can lead a lunch and learn, provide written materials, or record a webinar. This will take the burden off you and help employees learn how to be better consumers of a benefit they (most likely) already have.

Management education

Outside of just generally educating employees on the EAP, a crucial part of EAP education is specific training for management to recognize situations where their employees may be in need of services, tactfully navigate through a difficult conversation, and recommend EAP services in a respectful, private manner. Hopefully, Frontline leaders have well-established relationships with their team members and are often the first to see warning signs of situations that may negatively impact an employee. Providing your leaders with a heightened knowledge of the EAP and how to manage a difficult conversation tactfully can lead to more discussions around the EAP and increase usage organically because recommendations come from a trusted friend/leader who has their employees’ best interests at heart.

Ensure ease of access

Now that we have armed our employees with the knowledge of all our EAP’s benefits, we need to make sure they can easily access the program when they need it. Think about times you have been in your own crisis. How often were you devoting time and energy to searching through endless pages of benefits or websites to find a resource? Chances are, probably not that often. When we or our employees are distressed, we need to ensure we have made it as simple as possible for them to find the help they need. Include EAP information in fliers and benefits presentations, link directly to the EAP from your benefits/wellness/HR self-service hub, periodically distribute contact info via email, post fliers around the office, etc. This is where Navigate can really shine. As a customizable wellness and engagement platform, Navigate can house all benefit and EAP information in one place, simplifying the employee experience. In the same app, employees use to track their goals and growth, they can easily access information about the full suite of benefits you already provide. Check out our website to see Navigate’s customizable and holistic approach to wellbeing that can improve access to and use of the benefits that set you apart.

Include EAP information in open enrollment

How often have you gone through open enrollment and seen a blurb about your EAP? This is a great time to remind your employees about the availability, accessibility, and benefits of your EAP. When going through open enrollment, we think about benefits we use throughout the year, like medical, dental, vision, and disability insurance. How many times have you thought about your EAP the way you think about medical insurance? If you include information about your EAP with your other benefits, you can help employees begin to think about the EAP as more a part of their year and journey rather than something we gloss over in the benefits booklet.

Continue the conversation

EAP education cannot just be done at open enrollment. Remember the old adage that you need to hear something seven times before you actually know it? That’s actually backed by science. Most research shows that the average person needs to hear something 5-10 times before truly remembering it. If we are only communicating about our EAP at open enrollment, it could take someone seven years before they truly understand the benefit. Chances are, they will have a need to use the services in that time, and we may have lost an opportunity to help an employee. Remember, we don’t have to do this on our own. Your EAP provider will have a plethora of resources you can use, so get creative on how to incorporate these resources into things you already do. Ask for promotional and educational materials from your EAP representative and include them with a link to the provider in your monthly newsletter; have them host a quarterly/semiannual learning session; include a benefits/EAP section to your town halls/all-hands meetings; post resources and links to your intranet or company communication tool.

Investing in an EAP is an essential step in offering your employees the benefits they are looking for to support them, but there is so much more that can be done to help your employees along in their experience. Connect with someone at Navigate to learn how we can help boost the impact of the investment you are already making in your people and inspire Good Things together.

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