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How to Select the Right EAP for Your SMB

How to Select the Right EAP for Your SMB

As an HR Party of One, you know that working doesn’t always feel like a party– especially when you're going through a difficult time outside of work. No matter how hard you try, it’s nearly impossible to completely separate work and life. 

Statistics show that HR professionals understand the value in supporting mental well-being in the workplace. According to SHRM’s 2022 Mental Health Workplace Benefits Study

  • 94% of HR professionals believe that by offering mental health resources, organizations can improve the overall health of employees.
  • 88% of HR professionals believe offering mental health resources can increase productivity.
  • 86% of HR professionals indicated that offering mental health resources can increase employee retention. 

Despite the tremendous effect employee mental health has on an organization’s ability to succeed, only 32% of HR professionals claim offering mental health resources is a high priority for their organization. 

Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been recognized every May to increase awareness about the vital role mental health plays in our overall well-being. One way to celebrate mental health awareness month at your workplace is to bring attention to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are the best way for employers to offer direct mental health assistance to their employees.    



What Is an EAP? 

An employee assistance program— or EAP— is an employee benefit that assists workers with personal or work-related problems that may impact their job performance and physical or mental health. EAPs generally offer free and confidential mental health assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services for employees. In essence, EAPs are critical work-based support tools that help employers show they care about the well-being of their workforce. EAPs can support employees through the following: 

  • Substance abuse
  • Financial difficulties
  • Addiction treatment and recovery
  • Legal difficulties
  • Family conflict
  • Workplace conflict 
  • Overall mental health
  • Stress management 
  • Elder care help 

According to Mental Health America, nearly all mid to large companies offer EAPs, but only about 4% of employees use them each year. This signals that EAP services may not be promoted well internally and their use may not be encouraged by employers. As stated in the UMB Digital Archive, these stats are even lower for small employers: only around 66% of employers with 100-499 employees offer EAPs. 

If your plan doesn’t include an EAP, ask your broker. There may be another line of coverage you have that does, or you might consider getting one on a standalone basis. You can also talk to your current healthcare provider to see if they offer an EAP.



How to Select the Right EAP for Your SMB

Before searching for an EAP provider, it is important to consider and understand the needs of your workforce. You may want to consider industry-specific issues and aspects of your company’s culture that may raise a need for support. There are three main EAP models for small business: 

  1. Fixed-fee: Organizations contract an external EAP service to offer many assistance services to employees. In this model, costs are predictable, and payment is fixed based on the number of employees at your organization. 
  2. Contract-only: In this model, your company is charged on a per-user basis. If no employees use the EAP services, your company is not charged a fee. 
  3. Consortia: In this model, small businesses join together to contract for EAP services and they pay only when the service is used. 

Larger organizations may opt to implement management-sponsored EAPs, member assistance programs, or mixed-model programs. 

Employers should consider the following factors when selecting an EAP service provider:

  • Years of service and references. Is the EAP provider highly recommended? How long has the company been in business?

  • EAP Location. Do you need remote, on-site, or off-site EAP services?

  • Hours of services. If you have employees who work unusual hours, what hours of service would be most appropriate for your workforce?

  • Scope of services. Does the EAP service provider provide a wide range of services?

  • Referrals. Can the EAP refer employees to additional help when needed?

  • Follow-up services. How well does the EAP provider ensure clients get the help they need?

  • Credentials and training. Are EAP service providers well qualified to offer employee assistance?

An article published by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlights six affordable programs small businesses can offer to help their employees thrive personally and professionally:

  1. Ginger: text-based behavioral health coaching, therapy, psychiatry, and self-care resources. 

  2. Talkspace: app-based mental health support.

  3. Lyra: Guided self-care and therapy app.

  4. Thrive: assistance with legal and financial issues. 

  5. Ulliance: helps employees experiencing substance abuse or emotional difficulties. 

  6. BetterHelp: helps employees measure mental health progress. 


How to Promote EAPs

There’s generally a stigma around seeking mental health services. HR is in the unique position to be proactive about encouraging employees to take advantage of EAP services. 

Offering an EAP is great, but employees can’t benefit from it if they don’t know about it. Melissa Doman, an Organizational Psychologist, writes that for an EAP to be successful, “it needs to not only be visible, but the function of it really needs to be understood.” This starts with educating employees.

Here are a few steps you can take to promote EAPs at your organization: 

  1. Educate employees on what the EAP is for and how to access it. Check out our blog on promoting an EAP. It includes an email template you can use to educate employees at your organization. 

  2. Coach managers on how to communicate EAP availability and access. 

  3. Emphasize privacy laws. Employees will be more likely to use these benefits knowing that their privacy is protected.

In her article, Doman also shared an experience she had when she was an EAP counselor. According to her, an overwhelming majority of clients would ask, “Are you going to tell my boss or HR that I’m calling?” 

Many employees genuinely fear that their crises will be exposed to their employers and these fears often discourage them from taking advantage of their benefits. Emphasizing privacy laws can help employees rest assured that their confidentiality will be protected. 



Additional Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up to date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • Resource Library—essential guides covering a comprehensive list of HR topics
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics
  • Community—the HR Party of One Community forum, a place devoted to HR professionals to ask questions, learn more, and help others



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