May is Mental Health Awareness Month. When you think of what affects mental health—stress, financial stability, family ties, leisure time, mental illness, etc.—it’s clear that work is a major contributor to overall mental health. As a company that hires a lot of people, we at Averro understand how important it is to give our team access to resources that help them keep everything in balance. One of those resources, and one that almost every American business has, is an EAP.
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a free, 24/7 service that helps employees & families with personal or work-related problems that impact job performance, health, and mental well-being. It’s not health insurance or HR—it's a separate benefit, like PTO. Up to 95% of companies have EAPs, according to SHRM, but less than 7% of employees ever use them.
Why would people turn down a free, valuable job perk? We’ve found that people are reluctant primarily because they’re either a) unclear as to what an EAP can actually do for them, or b) nervous about revealing private information in a forum related to work. We’d like to shed some light on EAPs so you can feel confident about using them—just like any other job benefit. Here are three things to know:
1. An EAP is a completely confidential, third-party resource.
Your company does not run your EAP. That might be the most important thing to know about them—there is no company record of whether you use your EAP or what you use it for. Since many people approach the EAP seeking assessments, short-term counseling, or referrals, it’s understandable that they’d prefer their employer not get information about their private lives. That’s exactly why EAPs are outsourced: for confidentiality.
In an interview with Ask A Manager, an EAP employee reminded readers that EAPs “are healthcare providers and bound by the same laws of confidentiality” as your doctors. The only exceptions would be a situation in which using EAP services like counseling is a condition of staying employed—in which case the EAP would simply let your employer know you completed your requirements—or if there’s a safety issue that requires outside crisis management.
“In other words,” the EAP employee said, “If we are going to do anything that involves identifying a client to someone who isn’t the client without the client’s explicit, prior consent, we had better have an airtight reason that involves the risk of people dying.”
2. EAPs offer a wide range of services—not just mental health counseling.
Did you know EAPs began as a way for employers to help employees combat alcoholism and addiction? Over time, they expanded their services to other help with other matters of mental health, and then to wider aspects of life. Now, your EAP offers educational programs, 24/7 call centers, telephone counseling, information, and referrals. You can use it for:
If your EAP doesn’t have a resource for what you need on hand, they can give you a referral to find help and expertise for whatever you’re up against. Remember that these services are intended for short-term use—and that not only are you entitled to use them, but your family is, too. That’s right—your spouse or child can call in on their own and use your EAP services!
3. When people use their EAPs, it actually works.
Some people are cynical about company perks like EAPs, thinking they’re mostly lip service. However, the research is in, and it shows excellent results in people’s lives. In a study published by the International Journal of Health & Productivity, employees who used their EAP showed an 8% increase in work engagement and a 22% increase in life satisfaction. Unsurprisingly, businesses are rewarded for facilitating an engaged and happy workforce—but more importantly, it’s rewarding to know engaged and happy people.
That’s why we’re such EAP evangelists at Averro. These programs were created with the sole purpose of providing tools and resources to help employees keep or improve their work/life balance and mental health, and they continue to deliver on that mission. This Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond, remember that you have access to this free and valuable resource—don't let it go to waste. From financial advice to nutritional advice, any step forward is a step toward better mental health.