We know that more and more employees are dealing with increased stress both inside and outside the workplace these days, and that employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be a helpful, effective way to help them address their concerns and work toward healthy solutions.

So, I think the big question here is really this: WHY aren’t more people using these resources when they can often access them for free? Here are some of the things that seem to be hindering utilization:

  • Confidentiality. I’d say this is one of the top reasons, if not THE top reason, that employees don’t use EAPs more. There is a common misconception that employers receive reports detailing who has used services or situations that were discussed. If your company offers an EAP, it’s important to explain – and reiterate to employees – that these specifics are confidential and not shared with the employer.
  • Process. Another misunderstanding I’ve heard with EAPs is that employees think they need to go through management or HR to get prior approval to use them. It is critical to communicate that EAP services can be accessed directly by the employee, without employer permission or involvement.
  • Breadth. When EAPs were first introduced as an employee benefit solution, they didn’t offer the variety of counseling services that they do now. Today, EAPs can help employees navigate everything from mental health issues and substance abuse to workplace stressors, financial concerns, marital problems and more. Ensure your employees realize the broad range of services available.
  • Stigma. As much as EAP services are needed, unfortunately, there can be a stigma that’s attached to using them. Try to minimize this by encouraging the use of EAP services and all the good that can come from them.
  • Awareness. Aside from everything else, do your employees even know that an EAP is part of their health benefits? As simple as it may seem, this lack of knowledge is another big reason why EAPs are underutilized. If your company offers them, make it known during employee orientations and through regular communications to existing employees. You can even bring your EAP providers in to present on how these programs work.

EAPs are a valuable, necessary resource – but if they’re not being used, our workplaces (and employees) will suffer. As employers who offer them, we need to put forth the effort to clear up the confusion about how they work and also be more proactive about educating and encouraging employees to use this part of their benefit plan.

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