Levels of EAP use hit new highs, according to data from UK employers

Employee assistance program EAP sign on wooden cubes.

New figures on the use of Employee Assistance Programmes show no sign of a post-pandemic ‘return to normality’ during 2022. Instead, EAP providers predict increases in EAP usage to continue in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis: a rush for practical advice on finances, followed later in the year by more calls relating to mental wellbeing.

The average usage figure among UK employers has now topped 12%, compared with 11.4% last year (and the typical average from previous years of 10.4%).

As a result, organisations are reporting more savings in terms of reduced staff absence and gains in productivity. Figures from the period between October 2021 and October 2022 show that for every £1.00 spent on an EAP in the UK, employers have seen an average ROI of £10.85. This compares with a previous average of £8.00 in the previous year, and £7.27 in 2019.

The new data is based on evidence from information provided by HR professionals using the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA UK) Return-on-Investment calculator (www.eapa.org.uk/roi-calculator): the biggest data set on EAP usage, impact and financial returns in the UK, representing anonymised information from 11 million employees. Around 1,000 calculations were made in the 2022 period.

Only the beginning

Paul Roberts, EAPA UK board member and research project lead, said: “We are seeing only the beginning of the fall-out from cost-of-living pressures. 2023 will be a year of drastic pressures for many more employees.

“We’ve entered a new age of dependency on EAP services. There’s consistently more volume of calls —whereas there used to be known peaks on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings — now the peaks can come at any time. There’s also more complexity to the nature of cases. Our members are telling us that EAPs are receiving more complex, longer and more intense calls on a regular basis. They also inform us that there has been a significant increase in referrals from GPs due to NHS waiting times for access to mental health support, which can be more than two years. 

“The majority of calls received by EAPs continue to be due to anxiety and depression. Worryingly, a growing proportion include an element of ‘risk’ to the employee — meaning they are in danger of self-harm or harm of some kind and need immediate support to ensure their safety.”

EAPA UK Chair, Eugene Farrell said: “EAPs were designed to meet demand for a range of everyday queries and advice — not as an emergency mental health service. And yet the UK’s providers are standing up to the test. Services have evolved; delivery has stayed robust. There is more effective triage of cases. Digital resources have been adopted where appropriate, but always on the principle that human contact is what makes an EAP so valuable. Providers are expanding and recruiting successfully; new initiatives have been launched to train more counselling staff.

Higher EAP usage is here to stay, for the foreseeable future. Were seeing the gradual fall-out from disrupted and changing lives, from more uncertainty. During these times HR need to be demonstrating the specific value of their focus on wellbeing and the ROI data can be part of this: for benchmarking, illustrating the value of active communications and engagement, and for looking at the potential impact of trying different models of services and changing the level of investment.”

The largest employers continue to benefit from the biggest returns from their EAP services (those with 5,000 or more staff have seen an ROI of £16.11 in the past year; £18.69 for employers with 1,000 to 4,999 staff). Typically, this is believed to be the consequence of more resources being devoted to championing the EAP: more extensive communications, management of services and specific awareness and issue-based campaigns.

The calculator was developed for EAPA by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) as an open source tool for benchmarking.



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