Factors That Can Make or Break an EAP Programme | EAPA-SA

There is more and more justifiable evidence, globally, that speaks to the positive impact that Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) have on workplace outcomes.  Their success is measured in the evidence of decreased levels of absenteeism and presenteeism; lower levels of workplace distress, improved worker engagement and better life satisfaction.

What is the best way to structure an EAP programme to ensure a programme’s longevity and success – particularly because there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to meeting an organisation’s unique needs?

Internal EAPs

The first EAPs were internal and staffed by employees.  Internal EAPs are generally favoured by large organisations in the private and public sector. They are considered to offer more customised services and insights into specific organisational culture, and they offer more rapid response.  For these reasons they are seen to have an impact on a more comprehensive level within an organisation.

External EAPs

Today, outsourcing is commonplace and EAP provided by external vendors is seen as a benefit add-on to employees– along with being considered less costly.  External EAP vendors have the wherewithal to offer greater counselling options – with technology allowing for counselling services available 24/7 across varied geographical locations. Many employees prefer the confidential nature of seeking assistance off site.

Hybrid EAPs

Hybrid EAPs are becoming increasingly common. The hybrid EAP model is a combination of internal-external EAP where the services of internal EAP personnel are augmented by the resources of an external vendor.  In this way the organisation benefits from the advantages of both.

In a white paper co-authored by Dr John Pompe, Dr Jodi Jacobson Frey, Dr Dave Shararm Rachel Imboden and Lauren Bloom, published in The Journal of Employee Assistance1 in the second quarter of 2017, the authors report their findings on critical success factors for internal EA programmes. This is on the basis of research conducted with the intention to explore the effect of downsizing and erosion of the internal EAP model in the USA and the viability of internal, external or hybrid EAPs.

The paper states:  “There is no avoiding the trend that EAP purchasers are leaning toward the cheaper, easier solution, paradoxically, for some of their most vexing and expensive personnel risks. This begs the question: Why? Why have large organisations invested in EAPs as valuable pieces of the HR puzzle only to, over time, downsize or even eliminate their internal EAP in favour of external or outsourced commercial products? Certainly the hallmarks of the outsourcing trend apply: lower costs, ease of administration, lower risk and more flexibility. But that’s only on the surface.  In an effort to explore the downsizing and erosion of internal EAP model, 29 current and former internal and hybrid EAP managers were interviewed using a combination of an online questionnaire and a recorded, transcribes, semi-structured discussion.”

Among their key findings was the fact that successful EAPs are those that understand and adapt to meet the unique needs of the organisations they serve.   Also, that the role of EAP managers and account managers is critical. Long with playing the role of EAP manager, managerial and business acumen is vital. “Developing positive relationships, selling the concept of EAP, and speaking about EAP in the language of the business all enhance the chances of the programme’s success.”

Interestingly, their findings on the five recurring themes found in successful internal EAPs are as follows:

  1. Effective organisational structure and change

In the case of a carefully managed succession plan when an EAP manager leaves an organisation, the long-term sustainability of an EAP was seen to benefit from an carefully orchestrated handover.  On the other hand, organisational change, such as being subject to acquisition or a merger, was seen as destabilising to an EAP.  In times of cost cutting it was commonly found that organisations would downsize their EAP.  The study found a complex relationship between EAP and organisational structure.  For example, it was found on one hand that placing an EAP within a benefits department had a detrimental effect, while on the other hand, integrating EAP into other areas of an organisation enhanced its sustainability.

  1. Strong leadership support

Having leadership that strongly supported an organisation’s EAP was seen to be significant in bolstering the growth and sustainability of an EA programme. The risk comes in change of leadership, where the EAP baton is not passed on.  So, the importance of an EAP manager who is able to build programme awareness and develop positive relationships is of great importance for EAP success.

  1. Carefully considered model and programme design

Customising EAP to meet the unique needs of the organisation, the forging of mutually beneficial relationships with vendors and integrating EAP into organisational policy and procedures were among the factors seen to contribute to the success of an internal EAP.

  1. Demonstrating the value of EAP

Demonstrating the value of EAP through anecdotes, particularly when this involved EAP’s response to a high profile critical event, was favoured over metrics to show EAP value.  However, in the light of the fleeting and possibly insubstantial nature of anecdotes, both stories and quantitative demonstration of workplace impact were found to be important in demonstrating the value of EAPs. Generally, successful EAPs are seen to have reported their activity and impact in a manner important to the organisation.

  1. EAP managers who understand organisational culture

It was found that EAP managers who understand their organisation’s culture and offer EAPs that are culturally relevant to the workplace was a critical factor. With this comes the ability to understand the organisation and speak its language, and to balance the role of EAP expert with being a general organisational leader. “Being flexible and adaptable to new roles, developing positive relationships, and playing the role of customer servant were all critical factors in the success of the internal manager and thus the internal EAP.”

Source: Journal of Employee Assistance – 2nd Quarter 2017