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Employee Assistance Programs: What Are the Disadvantages?

Considering an EAP? Learn more about the disadvantages of EAPs and how Modern Health could be a powerful alternative.

Your employees are your organization's biggest asset. Yet, they may not perform to the best of their abilities when facing difficult work conditions that can lead to increased burnout and stress. By providing employees with mental health benefits, employers can ensure they are adequately supporting their employees, mitigating stress and burnout, and helping them to perform their best.

A common way to provide employees with mental health support is through employee assistance programs (EAPs) which have been the dominant model of employee mental health benefits since the 1970s. Defined as a work-based program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems that may adversely affect their performance at work, EAPs typically provide short-term counseling services for specific issues. While EAPs may have been useful in the past, they are no longer an effective model of care.

With low utilization, long wait times to see a provider, and inconsistent provider quality, employee assistance programs can create barriers to care access even when utilized. Since the value of mental health benefits for the modern workforce cannot be overstated, it's important for employers to understand where EAPs fall short and learn how they can enhance or replace their current benefit offerings.

What Are the Disadvantages of Employee Assistance Programs?

To bolster employee retention strategies, many companies are beginning to recognize the value of mental health benefits. While EAPs are advertised as mental health benefits for employees, they have many limitations that lead to poor adoption rates among employees and a poor ROI for employers. These are some of the biggest disadvantages of employee assistance programs.

Perception as Crisis-Oriented

Employees typically view EAPs as a resource to use once they’re already at risk. While most EAPs can provide employees with crisis support, they may not be effective in preventing or managing burnout or other mental health concerns. Although it's vital to ensure that employees have access to crisis interventions such as 24-hour hotlines and crisis treatment for life-threatening emergencies, employees need support for a range of mental health needs to address concerns before they become a crisis. This is why providing multiple modalities of care is crucial as it can help reduce the amount of time that employees wait before seeking care.

Finally, when it comes to crisis support, EAPs may be less effective in getting members to connect with longer term care options (through their own counseling), since members do not receive personalized matches to providers.

Unavailable Providers

The limited amount of providers available through EAPs can be a challenge for employers. According to the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, "the average wait time to access  mental health support is about six weeks. If you're looking for a specialist in a certain area or with specific attributes, wait times can stretch into months."

These long wait times expose employees to additional risks that can negatively impact their personal and professional lives. When evaluating a mental health benefits vendor or solution, employers should inquire about the average wait time to see a certified provider to ensure their employees will be able to receive care whenever they need it. As a benchmark, members receives personalized provider match options within minutes of signing up and have a <1 day average time to first-available session.

Inconsistent Provider Quality & Effectiveness

Another challenge with EAPs is the inconsistent quality of care that employees experience. This is due to the lack of vetting and the lack of training that providers receive on evidence-based interventions. This poor quality treatment can result in poor clinical outcomes which can leave employees feeling vulnerable and frustrated. Additionally not every EAP provider may be trained to work with a variety of populations which can place the burden on an employee to find the right care for their needs.

Lastly, beliefs and values influence how we think, speak, behave, and interact. We experience different cultures based on our identities at the individual, team, organization, and societal levels. These shape how we interpret and experience others. Thus the integration of culture into mental health care delivery is vital for effective mental health support and is guided by 4 key concepts (Zayas et al., 1996)

1) Awareness of culture 

2) Knowledge of cultural aspects of an individual, group, couple, family, community, or organizational experience

3) Understanding of the difference between culture and markers of distress

4) Ability to integrate these concepts into service delivery

EAPs might not employ diverse providers or those trained in culturally centered diagnoses and interventions which can impact the outcomes that employees are able to achieve.

Limited Care Options

A typical EAP benefit provides eight or fewer counseling sessions per mental health “issue.” Depending on the program, these may be delivered by phone or in-person. Recently, EAPs introduced video counseling, but their success with this model hasn’t been fully evaluated. Yet here is no one-size-fits all solution for mental health and well-being. Individuals engage in their mental health differently -- whether that means listening to meditations, texting with a coach, meeting with a therapist in-person, or consuming digital content that helps rewire the brain. While one individual may benefit from working with a specialized coach, another may want to do self-guided care from their phone. We are the first solution to cover the full spectrum of mental well-being needs through a single platform that meets everyone where they are in their mental health journey, which is not the experience that EAPs offer.

Limited Data and Reporting

Since EAPs have disjointed systems, there is a lack of reporting for employers on adoption, engagement, and if the services are beneficial to employees. This makes it challenging for employers to find a way to get accurate data to reflect a true ROI. 

Such cloudy data can make it impossible for an organization to understand how well the investment pays off clearly. Without insights that allow employers to effectively manage access to care and extend timely targeted support to the workforce, organizations have a limited view of the ROI of their benefits.

When choosing employer-provided benefits that support your employees' mental health and well-being, it's important to consider if the services provided are robust enough to meet the needs of a diverse workforce. Mental health benefits beyond traditional therapy can break down barriers to care, help create an inclusive workplace, and provide employees with various services that support mental well-being to prevent mental health concerns in the future. 

Mental health benefits are only effective to the degree they are used. Employers rarely see a sizeable return on investment when they provide benefits that suffer from low adoption rates. 

Although employers frequently provide EAPs as a form of mental health benefits, there are more comprehensive mental health benefits available for employees. Finding the right employer-sponsored mental health benefits for your employees can help you improve performance and increase retention. If you don't think an EAP meets these challenges, it might be time to look for a modern solution to employee mental health benefits. 

Finding high-quality benefits that support employee mental health and provide a measurable ROI isn't easy. We're here to help. Contact the professionals at Modern Health to learn more about mental health benefits that meet various needs.

Modern Health

Modern Health is the comprehensive mental wellness platform that combines the WHO well-being assessment, self-service wellness kits, an international network of certified coaches, and licensed therapists available in 35 languages all in a single app. Modern Health empowers employers to lead the charge in acknowledging that mental health is just as important as physical health, de-stigmatizing the conversation, and increasing accessibility of mental health services for all.