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10 Ways to Make Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) A Powerful Customer Service and Risk Reduction Program

10 Ways to Make Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) A Powerful Customer Service and Risk Reduction Program


1. With the increased risk to employers of being sued by employees, how does the EAP play a role in reducing this risk beyond simply seeing employees referred for personal problems?

Because EAPs deal with troubled employees, many of whom have problems with management, they are frequently the first to learn of an employee’s interest or intention to sue the company. Such statements, if handled properly, make the EAP an early, front line defense against employment claims and related lawsuits.

EAPs also become aware of supervisor malpractice issues during the year, and complaints from employees or supervisor clients may lead to keen awareness by EAPs of behavioral risk issues such as discrimination, sexual harassment, employment practices liability, wrongful discipline issues, racial discrimination, EEO violations, and more.


EAPs discovery the problems mentioned often prompt the EA professional to appropriately intervene with services or training, or encourage a workers to consider internal resources within the organization to resolve problems.

EAPs don't send employees running to HR for every little complaint, but the EAP will consider whether the problem is big enough and risky enough to warrant a referral to HR. Over time, EAPs become highly attuned to what HR wants to know about, and therefore when to refer an employee. 

EAPs can't disclose information gathered in confidential interviews with employees, but they can speak generally to management about organizational risks and issues. One of the most effective ways of doing this is with an annual EAP Risk Mapping Report, as I call it, to provide an organized way of communicating risk issues to management that they can then accept and approve as new areas of EAP work in the coming year.

The EAP Risk Mapping Report seeks to identify and address global risk issues discovered by the EAP in its non-confidential interaction with employees and managers throughout the year. Contact 1-800-626-4327 for consulting on assembling EAP risk mapping report that grows program value, increases the likelihood of EAP renewal and retainment, and is likely to easily demonstrate cost-benefit to employer host organizations.

Employee Assistance Professionals help employees seek solutions to personal problems and will steer employees to more constructive alternatives to meet their needs. In many instances this is accomplished by referring them to human resources, providing conflict resolution assistance, or seeking other alternative dispute resolution channels, if not simply a professional counselor who can deal with underlying issues that fuel volatility in workplace relationships. 

With focused attention, EAPs can save money by helping ward off lawsuits long before they are ever filed. These are precious dollars recovered from loss. It is more crucial than ever for today’s EA professionals to understand laws that govern the employment relationship, teach them to supervisors in simple educational presentations, and work toward deepening relationships that can expose more risk and opportunities to intervene.

EA professionals should know these major laws and have a basic understanding of their tenets. Armed with this knowledge, they can better consult with supervisors in the course of managing troubled employees. Every EAP should respond to an additional question, "How do you respond when an employee comes to your office and states that he or she is interested in suing the company?" In effect, the "Canary in the Coal Mine" to help employers stave off lawsuits is a well-integrated, live-body, high touch, on-site or off-site employee assistance professional.

2. What is the experience of the EAP staff, and in particular the staff who will service our company? What is the staff turnover rate, their workload, and their pay?

Experienced EA professionals are difficult to find and recruit. Just ask any fast growing EAP or managed-care company with a national EAP product. Turnover occurs less EA staff are salaried employees of the company. Certified EA professionals with master’s degrees in mental health disciplines are particularly hard to come by, but represent the best pick of those who should be servicing your company. Add a mental health license and/or alcohol and drug counseling certification, and you have a rare find. A recovering alcoholic and addict with any of the preceding qualifications is often worth their weight in gold.

Mature EA professionals will turn over fast when inadequately paid. Such turnover can be deadly to your company. Many private EAP providers and managed care companies are notorious for paying low wages to their line staff – the ones in the trenches. They need to be adequately paid so they stick around and do your company some good. With inadequate pay or overwork, employee assistance professional can leave too early, just when everyone got the name right. And for only a few thousand more dollars! Obviously your company will suffer. Expect salaries in the $50-$60K range for a master’s level EA professional with 5 years EAP experience and a license. Remember, the longer the relationships between the EA professional and management staff – like an aging violin – the better the program.

EA professionals suffer from low-salary images because they are seen mistakenly by their employers and businesses as "counselors or social workers" when in fact counselors and social workers aren’t qualified to be EA professionals without requisite training and experience. Employee assistance professionals (there are only about 8,000 Certified Employee Assistance Professionals) represent a distinct professional group. These are "behavioral risk management specialists" with business acumen who can keep your company out of court with the kind of cases they will typically deal with everyday. They’re worth competitive salaries. EA professionals who only "counsel, refer, and follow-up" are not working as EA professionals. They are hotline attendants.


The Recovering Alcoholic, Licensed Mental Health professional with EAP Experience Is a Value Asset for Any EAP

Some EA professionals with managed care companies may be forced to serve 20 corporations or more including your own, and be on-call for 10 more. Teams of EA professionals sitting in cubicles in an office building may be assigned 40,000 to 60,000 employees apiece to manage. (This is why Johnson & Johnson and a few other corporations insist that they have exclusively assigned EA professionals to their account.) Duties include intake and referral, clinical assessment, alcohol and drug addiction disease management, inpatient and outpatient reviews, and a host of supervisor and management consulting responsibilities. This is too much! With EAP providers, you get what you pay for. Remember, your goal is to maximize utilization and reduce behavioral risk. Insist one EA professional per 5000 employees. This has been the accepted standard among professionals for twenty years, but with the private provider and managed care EAP business customers are being educated away from it. And expect plenty of supervisor and management relationship building activities including conflict resolution, workshops, telephone and face-to-face consultation, and referral tips for managers, productivity projects involving HR’s input, and reports that spot emerging risk areas requiring a policy response.

3. How does the EAP reach supervisors who are unable to attend supervisor training and other related educational programs offered by the EAP?

Unless your supervisors are communicating regularly with the EAP they will forget to use it to refer employees until it is too late to salvage a once-valued worker. Supervisor training sessions are "iffy" things for companies. Some department managers will work against you, believing they can’t spare their supervisors, but spare they must. Still, the most troubled supervisors will skip out of training, particularly those with alcohol problems. These managers will remain ignorant of how to properly use the EAP as a management tool to refer your organization’s most troubled employees. To accomplish this goal, you should subscribe to The FrontLine Supervisor EAP newsletter. The FrontLine Supervisor is the only available education tool for supervisors that is designed specifically to increase EAP referrals. Supervisors must have ongoing education. One training session won’t cut it. Some HR departments or EAPs may publish their own supervisor education newsletter. That’s fine, but it should come out on time and it should appear monthly. Quarterly newsletters and the like are simply too infrequent to be useful. The FrontLine Supervisor’s question and answer format has proven success in being irresistible to busy supervisors who resist reading "in-box" literature. It’s available on diskette for editing and e-mail broadcast inside your company.

4. Can you explain how the EAP conforms to each element of the Core Technology as approved by the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association?

Without the Core Technology, or with only superficial adherence to it, an EAP does not exist. Here’s the Core Technology for EAPs:

The EAP Core Technology was most recently re-written and adopted by the Board of Directors of the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association in 1998.

Many companies sign on to EAPs have counseling hotlines or "1-800" EAP, short term assessment to non-CEAPs. These are partial, direct service components of the core technology that are the most visible EAP function pulled from the core technology and marketed separately. This service market began in the 1970’s. This is not an EAP according to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association. Millions of marketing dollars have convinced plenty of HR managers, and employee benefits consulting firms that indeed this what an EAP must be.

5. Does the EAP provide conflict resolution assistance to employees and departments and is it interacting continually with managers and supervisors by providing productivity services?

There is no requirement that the EAP provide conflict resolution services; however, it is an immeasurably valuable service to identify troubled employees. The need for service is growing in an era of low unemployment and a need to retain good workers. These morale management activities are particularly suited to the EAP. Many troubled employees who are bright, but are nonetheless suffering from personality disorders, experience conflicts with coworkers and supervisors. These conflicts are costly to worker productivity and may continue unabated for years driving down morale and productivity. Such troubled employees are defensive, but are nevertheless effective at convincing coworkers and supervisors that their problems are an unavoidable part of normal personality conflicts that emerge on the job. Accordingly, such employees are seldom referred to the EAP, and they keep supervisors baffled. Personality disorders exist when deeply ingrained, maladaptive ways exist of relating to other individuals in work or family relationships. Supervisors surmise that since the problem appears as a "personality conflict", nothing can be done about it. So, they suffer. The solution is referral to the EAP for conflict resolution services. This is one of few ways such employees can be identified by the EAP and helped.

6. Can you discuss the term "utilization rate"? What does this term mean relative to your communication with our company?

The EAP utilization rate is the total number of employees actually serviced by the EAP divided by the total number of employees eligible for its services. It does not include family members. EAP research shows that the average utilization rate for EAPs is 4.5% of the employee population, per year. (Blum, Terry C. et al. "A Research Note on EAP Prevalence, Components, and Utilization." Journal of Employee Assistance Research. Vol. 1, No. 1; Summer 1992). This is very low and probably represent a combination of EAPs and other services designated as EAPs. Some internal EAPs average 7-10% or higher. Informal research has placed the average number of alcoholic or drug addicted employees identified by well-functioning EAPs at about three per 1000 employee’s served. Utilization rate only refers to the cumulative total of self- and supervisor referred employees. However, some EAPs may calculate this figure in other ways that measure employees and family members, telephone contacts, or even the total number of employees provided any type of service offered by the EAP. You need to be in agreement with your provider on this definition and not assume every EAP use the same definition. The more your EA professional staff has personal contact with employees, the higher the utilization rate will be. This is an argument for EA professional staff having close proximity to the employee population geographically, with plenty of interface with the work culture.

7. How does the EAP preserve actual and perceived confidentiality, and provide for informed consent?

Confidentiality is everything and cannot be oversold to the employees in your organization. Just as important is the perception of confidentiality. More EAPs are ruined by poor perceptions of their confidentiality than actual violations of confidentiality itself. Does the EAP office afford confidentiality to employees who visit there? Do non-client employees on other business matters frequent the EAP location in an area of a city or office building. If so, employees on their way to the program can be easily identified by their coworkers. This will cause the perception of confidentiality to suffer. In turn, this will cause utilization rates to suffer. Are employees forced to sit and wait with other employees in the same waiting room? This automatically violates confidentiality. Indeed, we’ve seen the biggest and most reputable EAPs in the nation get ruined this way. Do EAP clients run into other EAP clients in hallway outside the EAP office, the medical unit, or when they enter and leave the office location? What about e-mail? E-mail is not confidential. Do supervisors and employees communicate with the EAP this way? It’s a no-no. Just ask Bill Gates of Microsoft who was confronted by Congress with e-mail he sent five years earlier. What education is provided to supervisors so they are aware of their responsibility not to disclose private information that is legally provided to them by the EAP?

8. How does the EAP reach out to employees who may never call for assistance with a personal problem?

The more employees served by the EAP, the more its value to your company. There are employees for whom the stigma of seeking help for a personal problem is just too hard to shake. Your EAP can offer organization-wide opportunities for workshops and seminars to reach some of these employees, but there are more creative ideas to get the job done. Your EAP should consider distributing an employee newsletter. Newsletters are better when they are frequent, and short. Four-page newsletters tend to get distributed quarterly because of cost. Unfortunately, most employees will not completely read a four-page newsletter. Two is better, less expensive, and can distributed more frequently for better impact.

One superb outreach technique we call the "The Good Health Supply Line." Twice a year, employees are given a list of about a 100 pamphlets dealing with a wide range of personal and mental health topics. These are easily obtained from a commercial source. Many pamphlets have extremely sensitive titles such as dealing with sexual matters, overcoming the death of a child, cancer in the family, and so forth. Each employee completes a form choosing up to three pamphlets he or she desires. These pamphlets are then returned confidentially to the employee’s home by the EAP. Enclosed with the pamphlets is a generic letter to the employee inviting the employee to visit the EAP to discuss the topic of concern.

9. How will the EAP assist the organization in identifying behavioral risk management projects and needs?

Behavioral risk management is growing EAP responsibility in organizations. Behavioral risk management is any activity or function designed to prevent or mitigate loss associated with worker behavior. No one gets closer to your supervisors and employees than the employee assistance program. The EAP is in a unique position to spot emerging trends that can be vital to your organization’s productivity. EAPs easily identify emerging risk areas, and when properly utilized, can contribute to policy changes and initiate productivity projects that influence competitiveness and customer service excellence. An EAP can be your best barometer for measuring morale, employee loyalty, racial and ethnic disharmony, litigious supervisor behavior, and other behavioral risk parameters that prevent calamities and lawsuits. If used properly by management, employee assistance professionals can guide management in taking action long before these emerging trends become register as financial losses. EAPs can contribute to the finding of unique solutions to problems they identify. Solutions might include new policies, increased effectiveness of internal communication, supervisor education programs, diversity awareness, team building, and even customer service workshops. In short, EAPs produce, without violating confidentiality, intelligence information that can be used strategically to make an organization healthier.

10. What is the average number of interviews conducted with each referral to the EAP?

Virtually all EAPs were internal until approximately 1974. With the emergence of private EAP vendors came competition among EAP providers nationwide for contracts with major U.S. corporations. A new industry was born. As mentioned, in many instances, the core technology was left behind. Historically, three sessions with a troubled employee to examine and address a personal problem was always considered plenty. The next step was referral. After all, EAPs don’t do treatment. However, the number of sessions became a marketing issue in growing and competitive EAP marketplace. Three sessions gave way to four, then six, then eight. (This problem didn’t affect internal EAPs, who met with employees long enough to make the referral – whether it took one session or eight.) EAPA finally took a stand in the early eighties and appeases hundreds of these members permitting up to eight sessions in its standards. Today, many EAPs offer eight sessions, but your employees will usually be referred with less, unless a fee per session is paid to the provider. In this case, most of the eight sessions will be used because of the built-in financial incentive to do so. Consider cutting you EAP costs by contracting for three sessions per problem referred, and obtaining more interaction by the EAP with your managers. Include special projects, educational programs, and consultative help on managing employee behavior and other behavioral risks. Here’s why. It’s harder to transfer an employee to a therapist who has used eight sessions because they lose interest and motivation from the "assessment" they received from the EAP over a period of time lasting up to two months or more. This is not assessment; it’s treatment. Your company in not in the therapy business, and such practices increase your risk. This is exactly what you are trying to avoid.