A Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can help you attract new talent and engage and retain existing employees. This guide tells you why you should consider implementing an EAP and how to get started.

We may receive compensation from partners and advertisers whose products appear here. Compensation may impact where products are placed on our site, but editorial opinions, scores, and reviews are independent from, and never influenced by, any advertiser or partner.

During 2020, most U.S. lives and jobs were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Many small businesses closed their doors, millions of people were laid off, and 42% of the workforce transitioned to working remotely from home. All this change and unpredictability took an emotional and mental toll on employees.

With individuals feeling stress from both the coronavirus and job uncertainty, more workplaces are looking to provide employees with assistance programs that can help give them the tools they need to work through unique challenges. One of the solutions many employers are turning to is Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which can improve an employee’s quality of life, both at home and in the workplace.

Overview: What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

EAPs are intervention-style systems designed to offer employees benefits to promote a better work-life balance. EAPs can provide counselors and other resources to employees experiencing personal challenges that are impacting their work productivity. EAPs can also step in and help employees through workplace conflicts.

EAPs help employees address myriad issues ranging from:

  • Marital problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental disorders or imbalances
  • Financial struggles
  • Family issues
  • Emotional problems

Many EAPs even help employees with referrals, offering solutions for marital counseling, adoption assistance, childcare, elderly care and services, health and wellness programs, and much more. While workplaces set up EAPs, the specific services provided to individuals remain confidential.

EAPs help individuals, but they are also beneficial to employers. Businesses that enact them can expect positive results, including increased job satisfaction and improved employee retention. EAPs have also been correlated with these improvements:

  • Increasing productivity by 73% for employees facing mental health issues
  • Increasing productivity by 66% for employees facing physical health challenges
  • Decreasing tardiness and absences by 62% for employees who had EAP interventions

The 5 Employee Assistance Program (EAP) delivery models

It’s clear that EAPs can help you get the best performance out of your employees while offering them benefits to enhance their personal and professional lives. But before you establish an EAP, it’s important to understand the different models available.

In-house programs

If you own a large organization or corporation, it might make sense to hire an in-house EAP specialist or team to provide on-site (or remote) services for your company. This typically involves a fixed fee and grants your employees access to EAP professionals at all times.

Fixed-fee model

Small and mid-sized businesses can benefit from fixed-fee EAP models, which allow businesses to pay a set fee for a specified selection of EAP services. This fee is typically determined by your company’s number of employees and the list of services selected. Usage plays no role in setting the cost.

Contract-only services

With this model, businesses contract with EAP professionals to provide services only when needed. Services would then be charged ad hoc or on a contract basis. This model typically works best for small businesses and startups.

Union-sponsored or membership-sponsored services

If your employees are members of a union or member assistance program based on your industry or affiliations, some EAP assistance might be provided for them.

Hybrid models

This type of service could include a range of fixed-fee services, contract-only services, and even union-sponsored or membership-sponsored offerings. Hybrid models are ideal for companies that might need a range of services offered for a fixed fee while contracting out additional services as needed.

How to implement an EAP model in your organization

If you want your employees to have access to all of the benefits that EAPs can offer, it’s time to get started on setting up your program. Here’s what you’ll need to do to organize and set up an EAP at your company.

1. Set up an EAP committee

The first step toward implementing an EAP is to create a committee to review your options. EAP committees could include members of human resources (HR) or people management, leadership, or a mix of employees from different departments. Smaller companies should keep committees fairly lean, while larger companies might want all of HR and leadership involved.

It’s important to make sure HR is involved at the inception of your EAP development, particularly if you’re focusing on creating a more strategic human resources management team to support business goals.

2. Determine the right EAP model for your organization

Next, you’ll want your committee to discuss the right EAP delivery model for your company. Determine if a fixed-fee or contract EAP system makes the most sense. Or, if your company is large enough and can benefit from on-site services, you might consider hiring a professional or team to join your business.

If your committee struggles to decide what services to offer or which model to adopt, it might consider opting for a hybrid model with more flexibility and customization.

3. Create an EAP policy

Your EAP policy is similar to a business case. You’ll want to compile statements, data, and information to support your desire for creating an EAP. This policy may need to be reviewed by stakeholders or partners, depending on your business entity, so be sure to present a compelling argument backed by hard data and dollars saved and/or earned in order to sway executives.

4. Hire EAP contractors or professionals

Once your policy is approved, it’s time to start looking for EAP providers. You can find professional services to work in-house or on a contract basis, depending on your specific needs. Draft up all necessary contracts and agreements so your EAP services are ready for employees.

5. Announce the EAP to your team

You’ll want to issue a company-wide announcement to your employees sharing news of the EAP. This announcement could take a few different forms. First, if you have an internal newsletter or email, be sure to include the information. You can also provide documentation and instructions via the company intranet.

Human resources should offer additional guidelines and clarity on the EAP and next steps and can often alert employees of these changes by using automated HR software.

If you’re a smaller company, it might work best to share this news via a Zoom call, but be sure to provide employees with the relevant documentation and details they’ll need following the call.

6. Offer individual HR appointments

Your employees may have questions that can’t be easily answered in a company-wide meeting. Rather than inundating your HR department with individual questions and concerns, make a plan with HR to schedule personal appointments with a representative. This representative should include someone from HR or the leadership team to go over instructions and any employee questions.

Be sure to provide HR’s availability upfront (you can use Calendly or other scheduling software to help). Your EAP documentation can also be built into training and development procedures for your company.

7. Continuously review your EAP's progress

To get the most out of your EAP, you’ll want to continuously check on how often employees are taking advantage of these services, regularly communicate any new services, and make sure talent management alerts potential new employees of the benefits your company’s EAP can provide. Over time, you might explore adopting a different EAP model to save on costs, while still offering employees access to needed benefits.

Improve employee engagement and productivity with an EAP

Creating a culture of motivated and empowered employees can make a huge impact on your business. Make sure your employees have access to the resources they need by implementing an EAP program. In return, you’ll likely find your employees will become more productive, satisfied, and all-around healthier individuals.

The Ultimate Guide to Building Virtual Teams

Knowing how to build a strong virtual team is more important today than ever -- and there are six critical things you must do to succeed. That's why we've created this ultra-timely 19-page report on what you should be doing now to set your virtual team up to win.

Enter your email below to access our (no-strings-attached) free report, "The Ultimate SMB Guide to Building High-Performing Virtual Teams."

The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned.