The Truth about Employee Assistance Programs (“EAP”s)

You recognize that protecting the health of your employees and preventing personal problems from interfering with work performance is good business, and part of a caring Organizational Culture. You’ve decided that your organization needs an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or you have such a program already, and it’s coming up for renewal. But how do you know which program to buy?

Let’s face it; every EAP company will make a strong case for why they should be your provider. By now, it’s pretty much an accepted fact that EAP programs really can be very effective in bringing down the costs incurred from absenteeism, harassment, accidents, lowered work efficiency, extended use of supervisors time, sick leave, employee turn-over, theft, employee conflict, grievances, and short and long term disabilities claims.

Here’s some behind the scenes EAP information that providers likely won’t tell you: EAP providers will typically provide a quote based on your number of employees and their estimation of utilization rate. A typical “guess” on their part is that about 8% of your staff will make use of the service. If you have 100 staff, they might charge you $60 an employee for a year’s coverage. In this example you pay the provider $6000.00 to provide counselling coverage to all of your employees. The provider estimates that they will only have to cover eight employees out of that $6000.00 at a potential cost to them of $750 per employee.

How does the provider maximize their profits and ensure that the employee doesn’t eat up the whole $750? First the provider will set a session number limit (not one that they will often openly tell you-or one that their counsellors are allowed to tell your employees if they ask how many sessions they are entitled to have). That session limit is usually around five. So, if eight employees use the full 5 sessions your cost is $150 per session, which is above market rate for what you would typically pay if you reimbursed a private counsellor for those sessions.

It doesn’t end there, however. Behind the scenes the counsellors providing the EAP services to your employees are often under intense pressure to keep their average session number well below five-usually around three. You, and your employees, are of course never going to be told that! You also aren’t likely to be told that your provider is often paying their counsellors as little as they can-sometimes as little as $40 a session. If a provider is able to limit your eight employees to three sessions and pay only $40 per session to their counsellors their expense is $960.00 in total out of the $6000.00 that you’ve paid them. Another way of looking at it is that they’ve reduced their cost per employee covered from a potential $750 per person to $120 per person. The rest goes to other expenses and profit. That’s how it works.

If you’re selecting an EAP provider, you should be asking tough questions such as these: How can I increase employee usage of the service and insure that they are told how many sessions they are eligible to receive? What are all the additional services besides counselling that are available to us and are they included in the cost? What are the qualifications, training, diversity, and morale of the counsellors who will be working with our employees? What workshops, “lunch and learns”, and training seminars are available? What is the scope of the Trauma Debriefing services available to us in case of a crisis or emergency? What are the counseling offices like in terms of location, professionalism, and safety? How quickly are counsellors available and how much choice do employees have about who they meet with? What are the provider’s response and waiting times before initial and subsequent sessions? (Often new clients are seen quickly but then have to wait a long time before their next appointment). How does the provider take care of their counsellors so that they are paid well and do not experience burnout? (This is very important because too often the counsellors are under intense pressure to see as many clients as possible for as little money as possible, and this directly affects the quality of the service provided).

We know the ins and outs of EAP’s. We can ask the tough questions for you, and we will ensure that you have all the information you need to make an informed choice when it comes to the health and care of your people. And, if you find out (from the reports that we’ll make sure you get) that the average session number used by your employees seems to be low, we’ll find out why and help you address the issue. Or if you like, you can set up a personal EAP service directly with us. We’ll take care of your employees so they can concentrate on the work they need to do. Call Theo at 647-686-0116 to explore your options.