Provider Opinion: Philip Wood of Health Shield on the real value of EAPs

EAPs are the benefit that could make the biggest difference but won’t always be used by the most people

There is a misconception in the market that employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are a free or added extra to a health cash plan. The sentiment seems to be that they are bolted on as padding to the core benefits, to make the overall product look more appealing.

Obviously, the provision of a full EAP or 24/7 telephone helpline are never going to be used by everyone, like dental or optical, but it can make an immeasurable difference to anyone who genuinely needs this type of confidential support. Conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can affect any person, at any time of their working life, and can impact considerably on both their personal and professional lives. November’s Sickness Absence Review highlighted the value of EAPs and supported maintaining the existing HMRC tax exemption for workplace counselling.

A recent survey from a mental health charity showed that 41% of employees are currently stressed in their jobs, with 48% admitting that they are scared to take time off sick. There is a fine line between good and bad stress, together with differences in the levels of support available between larger and smaller organisations, which may not have the resources to employ full-time occupational health and welfare managers.

With such shocking statistics, employers always need to think about how they can help to better support all their employees and reintegrate those with any mental health problems back into employment, as soon as possible.

If the support offered by an EAP helps any employee make contact with a trained counsellor at any time of the day or night – 24/7, 365 days a year – then surely the value of the contact, and any resulting counselling sessions, is immeasurable. The effectiveness of EAPs is clear – it is a proven solution. Research carried out by FirstAssist last year, showed that before implementation 47% of respondents said they could not cope with the demands of their job – this compares to just 4% after the introduction of an EAP.

This benefit, and the use of 24-hour helplines, can support any member of the team, with any issues that are worrying them. Counselling, support and guidance is provided by a specialist counselling team, together with additional legal and medical staff who can help cover a wide range of lifestyle, health and medical and legal problems – at any time.

It is evident that workplace stress and mental health issues are a serious cause for concern. Attaching less value to this type of cover, than seemingly more tangible benefits, actually trivialises what is an exceptionally serious issue.

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