6 minute read

EAPs don't work – here's why

What is an EAP?

Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs have been a mainstay of the employee mental health landscape since the 1930’s, particularly in the UK, Ireland, Australia, US and Canada. They’re offered as a 24/7 email or phone-accessed intervention programme to provide employees with access to short-term counselling or therapy to provide care in the event of a serious incident. 

While this might sound fine on paper, EAPs are plagued by a huge problem. Plenty of evidence suggests many EAPs are expressly set up NOT to do what they claim to do, which is provide quick access to good support. In reality, they are at best a box-ticking “duty of care” service from a bygone era. This fact is perhaps most succinctly illustrated by the usage rates of EAPs – according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), UK EAPs report that just 1.8% of users are offered counselling. In a country where almost 20% of the adult population takes antidepressants, this is extremely low.

What’s more, a recent BBC File on 4 investigation has raised serious concerns about the effectiveness and ethics of classic EAPs in the UK. Its findings indicate that the EAP system fails to adequately support struggling employees, highlighting significant shortcomings in the services offered – rushed counselling sessions, a focus on hitting company targets to the detriment of clients' needs, and counsellors feeling pressured to downplay the need for further therapy.

But why are EAPs so dysfunctional?

Let’s explore the three main reasons that EAPs are an outdated solution and can't be the answer to the current mental health pandemic. 

1. Systematic barriers to support

To begin with, EAPs aren’t being used by employees because they simply have too many systematic barriers; EAPs are structurally incentivised to provide slow and cheap support, which they achieve by offering only the lowest level of care quality. The typical triage process is slow and means that an employee might not get access to a practitioner if they don’t meet certain criteria, or often an employee doesn’t get to select a practitioner they would like to work with.


2. Broken business model: Lower employer costs – but low quality service

The fact is that EAPs work just like insurance companies – the fewer people they provide with access to care, the more money they make. By way of analogy, let’s say that you’d like to go out for dinner on the weekend. However, to do so, you must enter a triaging process, letting an intermediary select which restaurant you’ll visit. The intermediary then assigns you a cheap diner or fast food place. That’s not what you had in mind. As a result, the likelihood that you would ever use the service again is very low indeed.

Until recently, business leaders hadn't realised just how much it'd cost to tackle the true extent of mental health issues in the workplace. It's unrealistic to think that you can solve your employees' mental health issues by just getting therapy for less than 2% of your employees, when 14% of UK people are taking antidepressants. The EAP business model is based on being very cheap and minimising access to therapy.

3. Practitioners don't want to work with them

The way EAPs treat practitioners falls short of expectations, leading to a lack of interest among professionals to work for them – with unreasonably low compensation rates and insufficient assistance provided by EAPs presenting another challenge still for employees to get access to adequate therapy. 

Fair compensation and respectful treatment of practitioners are essential for ensuring high-quality mental health access, attracting experienced professionals capable of addressing mental health and well-being concerns.

Rather than being randomly assigned the next available therapist, employees prefer to have options to choose from, and they'd like to be able to speak with specialists with expertise in issues aligned with their specific needs. Specialists in areas such as addiction, teen mental health, grief, or others relevant to the individual's situation would provide more effective support.

But why should companies and organisations change course now? 

Because we’re at the precipice of a rapidly escalating global mental health pandemic. In fact, in the UK, NHS leaders have declared that mental healthcare is a national emergency. Business leaders are now realising the impact of this mental health crisis. With managers now spending 30% of their time supporting team members with personal and emotional issues, organisational leaders are seeing its bottom-line impact in increased absences, reduced productivity, increased burnout, and employee attrition.

We haven’t even begun talking about the paradigm shift employers are facing with the rapid influx of employees belonging to “Generation Z” – young people who have startlingly different views about the duties and responsibilities of employers towards their employees. Research estimates that Gen Z will account for approximately 30% of the workforce by the year 2030.

They not only expect, but demand that employers actively invest and participate in supporting their mental health and wellbeing – and any company which fails to recognise this is doomed to fall short in the eyes of Gen Z. Their higher expectations for mental health support results in better workplaces for everyone! This means that the sooner your company invests in a working employee wellbeing solution, the better.

The cost of mental health issues for businesses

Based on analysis carried out by Kara Connect based on trusted industry data, for a standard office-based environment, mental health issues cost the employer an estimated weighted average of €1,440 per employee each year. So in a 100 person company, mental health issues would be costing an estimated €144,000 per annum. 

These costs are measured based on undesired attrition, staff absences, workplace burnout, increased pressure on managers and productive days lost – averaged out over the workforce. With new data on the worsening situation emerging almost every day, these numbers are likely to be conservative – so costs are likely to be even higher than our estimate – with the result that the case for investment in giving people access to mental health support has become glaringly obvious.

How is Kara Connect any different?

Kara Connect's mission is to empower and enrich the lives of employees in all kinds of industries and sectors by providing them with direct access to accredited professionals via our bespoke Wellbeing Hubs product. Our Wellbeing Hubs are expressly designed to do away with the triage processes, middle-man interference and incentive limitations found in older "solutions" like traditional EAPs. 

Our secret sauce? We provide employees with a real choice– allowing them to pick the perfect professional from a vast selection of expert practitioners. From the get-go, Kara Connect has been structured by practitioners, for practitioners – which means that our expert professionals have been robustly vetted and are paid fairly for the high quality of support they provide. As a result, we can attract and retain very high levels of care providers. 

With 3000+ practitioners specialising in 60+ fields of expertise in 30+ languages, we’re fit for purpose in ways no other solution can approach – and our usage rate, averaging more than 30%, speaks for itself.

Speak to an expert

If you’d like to learn more about our Wellbeing Hubs solution, feel free to book a demo by clicking here–or you could send us an email by clicking here. We’d be thrilled to show you what our employee wellbeing solution is capable of doing for your workforce – and for your bottom line.

Team Experience Insights

Florence Mazy
Shane Cusack

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Florence Mazy
Shane Cusack