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Are EAPs worth the cost?

Thursday June 25, 2015 Written by  Aon Hewitt
An employee assistance program (EAP) can boost engagement and productivity, but many employers are unsure if their programs are advancing organizational objectives.

In a new survey of more than 130 organizations, Aon Hewitt gauged employers’ views on how the success of EAPs and employee and family assistance programs (EFAPs) are evaluated and how well these programs align with broader business objectives.

These programs, which are widely offered by Canadian employers, provide counselling and support services to employees and their families facing challenges such as marital breakdown, addiction, illness and elder care. When implemented as part of an organization’s people and risk strategy, these programs can have a number of positive outcomes, including higher employee engagement, higher productivity and reduced costs related to absence and illness.

While more than 90 per cent of respondents have an EAP in place, the survey found that only one-quarter of respondents believe these programs to be an inseparable part of their comprehensive strategy. On the contrary, nearly 40 per cent say their EAPs are just part of a standard benefits offer, while almost as many (37 per cent) say these programs are not fully integrated with their people/risk strategies.

“Clearly there are opportunities for organizations to better integrate health programs, including EAP, into their overall health and benefits offering,” said Michael Kennedy, vice-president, national leader of health and wellness strategies at Aon Hewitt. “Employers see some programs as more strategic and others less so. Many, however, are also struggling with how to effectively evaluate EAPs and don’t see the value of integrating these programs into overall people strategies because they don’t know how to measure their effectiveness.”

While about nine in 10 respondents (89 per cent) review utilization data at least annually and more than half say they try to determine value for money spent, 84 per cent of employers are either not at all confident or only moderately confident in their ability to determine the value of EAPs to their organizations.

Moreover, only 35 per cent of employers are currently applying utilization data to support strategic organizational goals.

While the vast majority of employers believe EAPs provide benefits to employee and business health, most identify the positive impacts as occurring in areas that are more difficult to directly measure. More than 90 per cent say EAPs have a positive influence on employee/family health and well being; a smaller majority say the programs improve employee productivity (53 per cent) and reduce indirect costs such as absenteeism and presenteeism (61 per cent).

However, fewer than half of all employers (45 per cent) say that EAPs reduce direct costs such as use of health benefits. Only 36 per cent of respondents believe these programs increase employee engagement, and three in 10 (30 per cent) say EAPs enhance business results.

The survey results also indicated that some EAP offerings are missing the mark.

“Plan sponsors were quite clear,” noted George Shipley, vice-president and Canadian national commercial leader, health and benefits, with Aon Hewitt. “Over 80 per cent wanted their EAP provider to offer counselling, but only 13 per cent wanted their provider to offer wellness solutions such as fitness, nutrition or naturopathic. The fact that many EAPs offer these resources may lead to misalignment with plan sponsor priorities. Plan sponsors can reduce this risk by establishing priorities and ensuring all vendors are aligned with them.”

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