Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. EAPs address a broad and complex body of issues affecting mental and emotional well-being, such as alcohol and other substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems, and psychological disorders. EAP counselors also work in a consultative role with managers and supervisors to address employee and organizational challenges and needs. Many EAPs are active in helping organizations prevent and cope with workplace violence, trauma, and other emergency response situations.[1]

Many people tend to believe that an EAP is an intervention program. While the details of an individual program are identified in the plan documents, many EAPs provide critical support for serious issues. Some of the issues and services often included in an EAP are (but aren't limited to):

  • Mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, grief, crisis intervention, and behavioral health issues such as addiction or eating disorders are some examples.
  • Health and caregiving. In addition to managing their own health (e.g. establishing a fitness plan, getting nutrition guidance, or coping with a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension), employees may be faced with the additional challenge of being the caregiver for a loved one. An employee can get help locating eldercare or daycare services, nursing homes, or even tracking down an in-plan physician for a child going to school out-of-state.
  • Family services. All families can benefit from support in one way or another. Help is available with EAP marriage counseling services, family planning, child safety, physical or emotional abuse, and mediation.
  • Counseling referrals. One of the overarching benefits of an employee assistance program is having readily available, confidential support from qualified professionals for personal, family, and work-related issues. Counseling services can include assessments, remote short-term support, or referrals.
  • Substance abuse. Chemical dependency, addiction, alcoholism, gambling, and crisis intervention are a few examples where support from a qualified professional through the EAP can make a positive and potentially life-saving impact in an employee's life.
  • Financial services. EAP services can connect employees with help to improve financial wellness — budgeting advice, achieving healthy spending habits, loan consolidation, debt repayment, setting up an emergency fund, and more.
  • Work issues. Navigating a career change, establishing a plan for professional development, managing workplace stress and responsibilities, making travel plans, or managing relationships with coworkers are all examples of how an EAP can help employees with work-related issues and help prevent or overcome burnout.[2]

There are many clear examples of how an EAP benefits organizations across the nation. Here are Five EAP Benefits to Consider

  • Confidentiality: Your employees will undoubtedly appreciate that they have a resource they can use to discuss sensitive issues in complete confidence. If an employee is concerned about a marital issue that’s creating absences, for example, he or she does not have to worry about discussing a sensitive issue with their boss –the conversations and counseling are completely confidential and left up to the professionals. In turn, the employee feels more comfortable to openly discuss and ultimately handle the situation. EAP benefits provide an outlet to help them resolve these issues and learn to cope without negatively impacting job effectiveness.
  • Immediate Assistance: Employees have access to an EAP hotline 24 hours a day, with the ability to speak with a licensed counselor immediately on the phone, so there is no need to wait to seek assistance. Because the employee can call anytime, she does not have to worry about calling from a work phone. If an appointment with a medical professional or counselor is necessary, the employee can arrange to see one in just a few days.
  • Quicker Return to Work: Have you ever had an employee injured and out of the job for a few weeks? With EAP benefits, you can facilitate a quicker return to work after a leave of absence when the EAP counselors integrate with workers’ comp, medical, wellness and behavioral health to create a continuum of care for the employee to improve his condition for a speedier recovery.
  • Avoiding Escalation: We have all seen the buildup of stress escalate to negative or explosive situations. With the help of an EAP, employees are encouraged to seek help during the very early stages of a problem, which studies show prevent small issues from turning into something serious.
  • Affordable perks: As an employer in today’s marketplace, it’s critical that you work hard to keep top talent. As a result of implementing an Employee Assistance Program, you provide employees EAP benefits that your competitors may not offer. In addition, the use of an EAP will reduce healthcare costs and workman’s compensation claims. Less absences and lower employee turnover supports an employer’s bottom line, says Sherri Scott in Small Business.[3]

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, EAPs have been shown to contribute to:

  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Reduced accidents and fewer workers’ comp claims
  • Greater employee retention
  • Fewer labor disputes
  • Significantly reduced medical costs arising from early identification and treatment of individual mental health and substance use issues

History of EAP[4]

  • Early formation: EAPs have their origins in the late 1930s, and were formed out of programs that dealt with occupational alcoholism. During a time when drinking on the job was the norm, people began to notice the effects it had on job performance and productivity. This became a major issue for industrial jobs and would become the main focus for correction with job-based alcoholism programs. By 1939, the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) movement had begun to spread throughout the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. People in “recovery" began to eagerly share their experiences with other workers. This would be the start of the EAP movement. Businesses also started to see the effectiveness of the programs through the rehabilitation of their workers and the rise of productivity. These improvements sparked the thought of what other types of problems this program could address.
  • Taking shape: In 1962, The Kemper Group introduced a program to address alcoholic rehabilitation and later expanded the program to address the needs of the families of their employees as well. Including the families broaden the programs services to deal with marital, emotional, financial, legal, and drug abuse problems. In 1969, Senator Harold Hughes would introduce a bill called The Hughes Act. Sen. Hughes felt that there was a great lack of federal and state involvement in the treatment of alcoholism. In 1970, Congress would pass the Federal Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention Treatment and Rehabilitation Act creating the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA). States would then soon begin to follow suit and denounce public intoxication and began treating alcoholism as a disease. The NIAAA priority would be to begin researching and treating alcoholism. They were also focused on providing states with grants to hire and train EAP specialist.
  • In the 1970s, the Occupational Alcoholism Bureau formed by the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA) and the Association of Labor and Management Administrators and Consultants on Alcoholism (ALMACA) helped to spread EAP concepts. They did this by distributing information, giving conferences and seminars, increasing the knowledge of professionals and the community. A number of treatment centers would also grow after the passing of the Hughes Act. These centers have EAP specialist on site to help in the rehabilitation processes. It is not known the exact amount of treatment centers in the United States.
  • Economic crisis cutbacks: Employee Assistance Programs would see a significant shift during the economic crisis of the 1980s. During this time, the government was forced to create cutbacks for programs. This would cause for mental health public agencies, treatment centers, and private counseling firms to survive by partnering with industry wanting to enter the EAP field. This though would also cause the effectiveness of the programs to come into question. The cutbacks began to affect the training of the EAP specialist and their effectiveness. The situations of workers also began to change at this time. People were also having to wait in lines, and were having to search for work due to the crisis.
  • Post September 11: In most recent years, the services provided by EAPs have changed in their direction. With events occurring in the United States and around the world has caused for EAPs to rise and the need for them greater in the United States. EAPs have also been affected by technology, terrorism attacks, natural disasters, disabilities act, and workplace violence. Since the events of September 11, 2001, EAP specialists have become more involved in incident debriefing and implementing plans during emergencies. Providers began to report more on the workforce experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and an increase in occupational stress and depression.

See Also

Employee Attitude Survey
Employee Onboarding
Employee Benefits
Employee Development
Employee Engagement
Employee Selection
Employee Stock Options
Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)
Employee Turnover
Employee Value
Employee Value Proposition (EVP)


  1. What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
  2. What is included in an EAP? PayChex
  3. Benefits of an EAP Program All One Health
  4. History of EAP Wikipedia