What Is Employee Assistance?

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
December 30, 2015
What Is Employee Assistance?

Employee assistance (EAP) is a service designed to help you through tough times that may be affecting your job performance. Learn more here.

When you start a new job, you receive an explanation of your benefit package, which often includes access to a service called an employee assistance program (EAP).

EAPs are designed to help you cope with life struggles, such as substance abuse and mental health, that may have an impact on your job performance. In this way, they directly tackle productivity issues. 

The Society for Human Resource Management describes an EAP as a “work-based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems (e.g., marital, financial or emotional problems; family issues; substance/alcohol abuse) that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance.”

The expectation is that your productivity and attendance will improve, allowing managers and supervisors to focus on your work performance without also having to deal with your personal problems. 


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Essentially, EAPs are counseling services offered free-of-charge to employees but paid for by employers. The service is usually also offered to your dependents. 

The vast majority of businesses offer EAPs through independent contractors, mostly those who specialize in that particular service. The counselors are almost always clinical psychologists. 

Confidentiality is important. Your employer is not notified when you seek help through the company EAP, so you don’t have to worry about repercussions that might occur because of a “black mark” on your work record. 

According to one employee benefits survey, 79 percent of employers offer an EAP. The service is often available through your company's health insurance plan. Your company's program may offer telephone access, in-person visits, and internet and smarphone app interactions with a counselor. The number of covered visits may be limited, so make sure to read your plan carefully if you choose to use the service.

For your employer, offering employees access to an EAP amounts to prevention. Providing you with a service that can intervene before the impact of depression, workplace stress, and other mental health problems escalate, and your job performance worsens, can prevent a potentially debilitating problem. 

In addition, your employer hopes the employee assistance program will reduce absenteeism, job turnover and, perhaps, the cost of employee health insurance. Many companies now offer combination EAP or wellness programs.  

There are many reports that claim EAPs do help employees with their problems and offer a high quality of service, yet other reports say such services are underused. About half of employees don't know their company offers an EAP. Usage of the program often depends on a company making employees aware of the benefit.

If your company offers an EAP, don’t ignore it. Independent companies that offer one ensure its confidentiality. If it’s the stigma attached to mental health issues that keeps you from using it, try to get past it. 

Millions of people seek counseling every year for mental health issues, although many Americans avoid treatment. This is where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s always better to catch a problem early on. It’s easier to deal with and quicker to heal.

The longer you wait, the more personal issues will spread into other areas of your work and personal life.  


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October 20, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA