What is an employee assistance program (EAP)?

An EAP provides a confidential program designed to equip employees with external referrals, resources, and support for challenges they may face day-to-day or in a time of crisis. This service is usually an extension of a larger organization’s benefits package; however, many services covered under the EAP are accessible by the employee from their home via telehealth – making this a critical benefits offering to provide until stay at home orders have been relaxed. Commonly, services comprised within an EAP include:

  • Mental health programs
  • Stress management
  • Substance abuse programs
  • Health and caregiving resources
  • Legal and family advice
  • Workplace conflict management
  • Grief counseling

What are the benefits of an EAP and telehealth?

In the years leading up to COVID-19, telehealth had started to gain traction, and in a survey from SHRM in 2019, 79% of organizations offered an EAP to its employees. However, the global pandemic has escalated the prevalence of telehealth usage across the nation.

"Telemedicine technology has been available for years, but an event like this really raises awareness. I think telemedicine will forever be escalated in terms of importance; it's already played an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 patients." - Dr. Thomas Fariss, Former CMO of Kimberly-Clark

With access to resources via an EAP, employers are empowered to navigate challenges such as productivity, overall spend, and employee retention.

  • Employee productivity: When struggling with personal problems, employees might be distracted during their workday, and may cause them to take sick days frequently. Studies have shown that the introduction of an EAP can decrease employee absenteeism by 27%.
  • Overall spend: The U.S. Department of Labor reports that for every dollar invested into an EAP, an organization sees a return of $5-$16.
  • Employee retention: Survey results have reported that employees stay longer at organizations when they have a positive relationship with their co-workers. When a workforce has access to workplace conflict management and resources for other personal issues, it empowers individuals with the tools to address and resolve struggles to cultivate positive relationships with their co-workers.

How has COVID-19 impacted the use of EAPs and telehealth?

The global pandemic has had a dramatic impact on mental and emotional health. From weeks of social isolation, increased periods of uncertainty, rapid changes in routines, and financial stress, it comes as no surprise that in a survey recently released by Ginger, 96% of participants stated that COVID-19 had affected their stress level.

As we continue to navigate stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and slowly returning to the workplace, employers are getting serious about mental health because they have seen how much it can impact employees’ lives and work. They’re launching and re-communicating Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and mental telehealth vendors to ensure their employees have access to the resources they need.

Before COVID-19, we released a Trends Report composed of key benefits themes to inform employers of what they could likely expect over the coming year. One area of focus within this report was mental health, where our data identified that 1 in 5 members on our platform had a mental health issue.

“What’s more surprising is these statistics represent findings from datasets before COVID-19. We anticipate that these numbers will increase throughout 2020 and into 2021 due to the impact of social distancing, self-quarantining, and additional trickle-down impacts from COVID-19.” - Jennifer Jones, Sr. Director, Health Strategy Services at Springbuk

While stress levels have been reported to be at an all-time high due to the pandemic's impact, Ginger has also released studies that indicated a correlating increase in the use of mental telehealth programs:

  • Since the beginning of 2020, there has been a 10% increase in mental health app and online services.
  • Of those employees utilizing an online mental health service, 64% reported having only started using them since the onset of stress from the pandemic.

Next steps:

Over the next few months, we anticipate a continued rise in the impact COVID-19 has on mental health and wellbeing as employees return to the workplace, introducing new forms of stressors. To equip your population with the support they need during this time, there may be some merited outreach to re-communicate with your members on existing services, whether it be EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) or additional online resources.

Additional Resources: