What You Need to Know About Your EAP

Posted December 21, 2016

There are all sorts of issues that can slow you down and have little to do with your physical health. Grief, marital issues, depression and substance abuse are just a few things you might be facing that aren’t necessarily covered by your health insurance. And when you bring those issues with you to work, they can affect your productivity and work quality.

Chances are you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can help. Unfortunately, many EAP resources go unused because employees don’t know about them, says Stephen Elliott-Buckley of E-B Strategy, an organizational consulting agency.

“There are significant long-term benefits of EAPs for workers to pull their lives together, not only for the workplace but for people’s quality of life,” he says. “So employees need to seek out information about workplace EAPs more proactively.” Here’s what you need to know about this helpful but often overlooked benefit.

What Does an EAP Address?

EAPs can help employees and sometimes their immediate family members who might be struggling in a way that impacts their job performance, says Megan Bearce, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has served as an EAP contract therapist.

“Some typical presenting issues are depression or anxiety, substance use or abuse, the stress of taking care of an elderly parent, coworker conflict or the impact of a military deployment on family members,” she says.

Grief and loss counseling, stress management, compulsive gambling, smoking cessation and mental health screening may also be covered.

EAPs can help with on-site crisis issues as well, says Tina Hawkins, founder of Yarber Creative, which helps companies use technology to communicate with employees. When one of her clients was dealing with an employee suicide at 1 of its locations, Hawkins helped develop a campaign about EAP to help employees understand how to use it for any problems that arose in response to the trauma.

How Does It Work?

EAPs can be internal or external services and vary depending on the organizations that participate in them.

“Some companies have internal offerings, meaning you meet with staff on-site who will ask questions and perform an assessment of the situation,” Bearce says.

Other programs contract with outside professionals who can connect you with people who do the assessments. 

“The meetings are problem-focused and issues may be resolved through 1 to 3 sessions,” says Stephanie Wong, a clinical psychologist. “For longer-term issues, the employee may be referred to insurance and community resources.”

What Is the Cost?

In most cases there is no charge for these services, Bearce says, although there may be a limited number of free sessions with a professional. If further assistance is required, you may be referred to services that are covered by health insurance, or you may have to pay for them out of pocket.

How Can I Access the EAP?

Most often you can find a phone number to call in your benefits packet or employee handbook; otherwise, check with your HR department to get more information. Whether your company offers an internal or external EAP, the process is generally the same: You will talk to an adviser who can help you decide the best course for the issue you are facing, such as a referral to a psychologist for depression, a therapist for relationship issues or a counselor for stress relief. In both cases, services are confidential.

Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO and Founder of Reputation Capital Media Services. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about HR and financial services as a journalist and marketer. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.