Reshaping EAPs with digital technology

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) improve the lives of employees and the productivity of companies. For example, engagement with an EAP leads to a 46 percent decrease in absenteeism; a 13 percent decrease in work distress; and a 20 percent increase in life satisfaction, according to one EAP trends report.

However, in spite of EAPs’ proven value, employees’ use of these programs has been historically low, as low as 6.5 percent in North America, according to the EAP trends report. Reasons for low utilization include lack of manager referral to the EAP; lack of awareness about the offering; and the stigma associated with accessing EAP services.

Ironically, the need for these services has never been stronger, due to a rise in employee stress and anxiety. The EAP trends report reveals an increase in crisis counseling sessions among those who do access these services, attributed to economic stress, organizational changes and high-deductible medical plans, which drives employees to the EAP. Further, 63 percent of respondents to a Mental Health America Workplace Health Survey reported that workplace stress negatively affects their mental health.

Digital technology transforms EAPs

Today’s EAPs are not what they used to be, largely due to the acceptance and use of digital technology. Consumer health technology is a growing market, with the percentage of consumers using mobile health apps tripling over four years, from 16 percent in 2014 to 48 percent in 2018. Employers can tap into this growing market with health technology to increase their EAP utilization.

Between acceptance of digital-technology use and mental health services – among all age groups – digital technology is a go-to solution for addressing workplace mental health and wellness.

As noted in Beacon Health Options’ white paper, “Digital technology: Friend or foe to mental health?”, social media use is not just for the very young; working adults, along with seniors, are also fast adopting digital-technology use. Further, while older adults may have less experience and knowledge about mental health services than youth, they have favorable attitudes about accessing them. Consequently, between acceptance of digital-technology use and mental health services – among all age groups – digital technology is a go-to solution for addressing workplace mental health and wellness.

For example, EAPs with digital-technology solutions offer employees services when, where and how they want them – on the phone, online or in person with an EAP provider of their choice. Digital platforms feature not only access to these EAP resources but can also feature cognitive behavioral therapy modules, benefit information, provider searches and more.

Thriving employees, thriving companies

Digital technology is just beginning to realize its potential as part of the behavioral health treatment solution for specific populations, especially with an evolving workforce resulting from the retirement of Baby Boomers, who – although the fastest growing group of online users – are still not doing so at the rates of their younger counterparts. As younger generations dominate the workforce, technology will become an even more viable resource for supporting mental health and wellness.

The convenience and flexibility of digital solutions, which include nights and weekend hours, drive the use of services. The upshot for employees is that they have more preference and privacy to help them achieve their personal needs and goals. For employers, it means happier, more productive employees.

As technology evolves to be an even more relevant option for employees, employers and providers, it is important to remember that healthcare treatment remains personal. What works for one person may not work as well for another. How someone wants to access services – online, in-person or a combination of the two – is up to the individual, and in the case of mental health services, is a decision best made between the individual and his/her clinician. Indeed, the forward momentum of digital solutions in all of healthcare lies in the freedom that choice provides.


1 Comment. Leave new

Some employees find obstacles in using EAP benefits because they are concerned about confidentiality. Some supervisors request documentation when the employee requests time off and inappropriately ask about the situation that the employee is seeking assistance. Some supervisors seem unaware of their roles even in mandated referrals. My point is that there appears to be a need for enhanced supervisory and employee education related to the goals and purposes of the services. Diverse groups of employees display different help seeking behaviors.

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