Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are confidential worksite-based services that provide employees with counseling and referrals to address personal and workplace challenges, such as physical and mental health concerns, family problems, legal and financial issues, and conflict and stress at work. Services can be delivered by internal EAP counselors or consultants, or external service vendors contracted by the employer, and are typically provided at no cost to employees (, CWMH-EAP). There are no required standards for EAPs; the type and quality of services vary by employer (Mathematica-Contreary 2016).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved mental health

  • Reduced absenteeism

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced stress

  • Improved day-to-day functioning

  • Increased productivity

  • Improved employee retention

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) reduce participating employees’ depression (, , Lam 2011, , , , CDC-WHP depression) and hours absent from work due to personal and work problems (, , , Sharar 2012, Selvik 2004, ). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

EAP counseling services have been shown to reduce anxiety (, , , ), stress (, ), and emotional problems (Selvik 2004, ). Counseling services also appear to improve psychosocial functioning (, , Lam 2011) and social relationships (, Selvik 2004), but do not appear to affect alcohol and drug use among participants (, , Thompson 2005). 

EAPs may improve employees’ work productivity through reductions in absenteeism, performance impairment, and workplace stress (, EAPA 2017, EASNA-Sharar 2014, , Sharar 2012, Lam 2011). For employees with mental health problems, long-term EAP counseling services (up to one year) appear to have greater impact on job retention than short-term services (Hughes 2004).

Researchers recommend use of EAPs to increase job retention for low-wage workers (MDRC NGA 2004) and for individuals with an injury or illness (Mathematica-Contreary 2016). Researchers also suggest that enhancing employee awareness of EAPs, ensuring confidentiality, increasing the quality and availability of EAP services, and educating EAP managers can increase use of EAP services overall (, NBGH-EAP).

Cost benefit analyses suggest that EAPs may produce a $3 to $10 return for every dollar invested (EASNA-Attridge 2009). A Minnesota-based study estimates $230 savings from averted lost work days and $340 in medical cost savings per employee using EAP services ().

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of March 2016, 85% of employees who work in business establishments with 500 or more workers have access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs); 27% of those in businesses with less than 50 workers have access to EAPs (BLS-EAP 2016).

Vermont offers statewide comprehensive employee assistance services via a public and private non-profit collaborative initiative (Invest EAP).

Implementation Resources

EASNA-EAP guide 2017 - The Employee Assistance Trade Association (EASNA). Selecting and strengthening employee assistance programs (EAP): A purchaser's guide. December 2017.

NBGH-EAP guide 2008 - National Business Group on Health (NBGH). An employer's guide to employee assistance programs: Recommendations for strategically defining, integrating and measuring employee assistance programs (EAP). December 2008.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Thompson 2005 - Thompson J, Kyes K, Cheadle A, Bombardier C, Jacobsen R, Sorenson K, Stewart P, Hill S. Evaluation of a peer support program to reduce substance abuse within a large manufacturing company. Journal of Employee Assistance. 2005;35(3):14-17.

CDC-WHP depression - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Workplace health promotion (WHP): Depression intervention.

Hughes 2004 - Hughes D, Elkin C, Epstein I. Long term counseling: A feasibility study of extended follow-up services from high-risk EAP clients. Journal of Employee Assistance. 2004;24(1):15-18.

MDRC NGA 2004 - Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC), National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA). Building bridges to self-sufficiency: Improving services for low-income families. March 2004.

NBGH-EAP - National Business Group on Health (NBGH). Business group blog. Increasing employee assistance program (EAP) effectiveness and utilization: New approaches and emerging trends.

EAPA 2017 - International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), Chestnut Global Partners. Comparing improvement after EAP counseling for different outcomes and clinical context factors in over 16,000 EAP cases worldwide. Workplace Outcome Suite (WOS) Annual Report 2017.

Sharar 2012 - Sharar D, Pompe J, Lennox R. Evaluating the workplace effects of EAP counseling. Journal of Health and Productivity. 2012;6(2):5-14.

Carchietta 2015* - Carchietta GA. Five steps to increasing utilization of your Employee Assistance Program. Workplace Health & Safety. 2015;63(3):132.

Clavelle 2012a* - Clavelle PR, Dickerson SJ, Murphy MW. Counseling outcomes at a US Department of Defense employee assistance program. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 2012;27(3):127-138.

EASNA-Attridge 2009 - Attridge M, Amaral T, Bjornson T, et al. EAP effectiveness and ROI. EASNA Research Notes. 2009;1(3):1-5.

EASNA-Sharar 2014 - Sharar D, Lennox R. The workplace effects of EAP use: “Pooled” results from 20 different EAPs with before and after WOS 5-item data. EASNA Research Notes. 2014;4(1):1-5.

Eischen 2005* - Eischen BD, Grossmeier J, Gold DB. Chapter 14: Fairview Alive—An integrated strategy for enhancing the health and well-being of employees. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 2005;20(3-4):263-279.

Harlow 2006* - Harlow KC. The effectiveness of a problem resolution and brief counseling EAP intervention. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 2006;22(1):1-12.

Harris 2002* - Harris SM, Adams M, Hill L, Morgan M, Soliz C. Beyond customer satisfaction: A randomized EAP outcome study. Employee Assistance Quarterly. 2002;17(4):53-61.

Jacobson 2011* - Jacobson JM, Jones AL, Bowers N. Using existing employee assistance program case files to demonstrate outcomes. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 2011;26(1):44-58.

Lam 2011 - Lam RW, Lutz K, Preece M, Cayley PM, Bowen Walker A. Telephone-administered cognitive-behavioral therapy for clients with depressive symptoms in an employee assistance program: A pilot study. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry. 2011;23(1):11-16.

Mathematica-Contreary 2016 - Contreary K, Perez-Johnson I. Behavioral interventions to promote job retention after injury or illness. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR). 2016.

McLeod 2010* - McLeod J. The effectiveness of workplace counselling: A systematic review. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 2010;10(4):238-248.

Richmond 2014* - Richmond MK, Shepherd JL, Pampel FC, et al. Associations between substance use, depression, and work outcomes: An evaluation study of screening and brief intervention in a large employee assistance program. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 2014;29(1):1-18.

Richmond 2016* - Richmond MK, Pampel FC, Wood RC, Nunes AP. Impact of employee assistance services on depression, anxiety, and risky alcohol use: A quasi-experimental study. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2016;58(7):641-650.

Richmond 2017* - Richmond MK, Pampel FC, Wood RC, Nunes AP. The impact of employee assistance services on workplace outcomes: Results of a prospective, quasi-experimental study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 2017;22(2):170-179.

Selvik 2004 - Selvik R, Stephenson D, Plaza C, Sugden B. EAP impact on work, relationship, and health outcomes. Journal of Employee Assistance. 2004;34(2):18-22.

Greenwood 2006* - Greenwood KL, Deweese P, Inscoe PS. Demonstrating the value of EAP services. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. 2006;21(1):1-10.

Nunes 2017* - Nunes AP, Richmond MK, Pampel FC, Wood RC. The effect of Employee Assistance Services on reductions in employee absenteeism. Journal of Business and Psychology. 2017.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

BLS-EAP 2016 - US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employer-provided quality-of-life benefits, March 2016. October 2016.

Invest EAP - State of Vermont. Invest EAP.

Date Last Updated

Oct 1, 2018