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Interview: Are Employee Assistance Programs Worth the Money? Featuring Sharlyn Lauby

Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR is author of the blog HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc. Her company focuses on developing training solutions that engage and retain talent in the workplace. She’s the author of Employee Motivation published by ASTD Press and a contributing author on workplace power to “The ASTD Management Development Handbook”. Her goal in life is to find the best cheeseburger on the planet.

In your experience, what sort of usage levels have you seen with Employee Assistance Programs?

I don’t have any data about how often Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are used. But I do know from anecdotal experience that when employees need help, EAPs do get utilized. Even today as a consultant, I often remind employees that the benefit is available.

On some level, it reminds me of my AAA membership – I don’t think much about the roadside assistance service until I’m stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. And then I’m really happy that I have it.

Are EAPs worth the money (average of $5 per employee per month) based on the fact that employers have no way of measuring if they truly worked?

Peace of mind is priceless. When I was in Corporate America, I didn’t want to know the personal issues of our employees. Nor did they want to tell me. It’s their business and I respect that. But I did want to know they had someplace to go and work out whatever challenge they were facing. IMHO, that’s worth $5 a month – that’s the equivalent of cost of a cup of coffee somewhere.

We are quick to tell employees to leave their personal issues at home. That’s great in theory but practically speaking, doesn’t work very well. I always thought that an EAP could help employees stay focused on work while at the same time handle whatever challenges life was presenting.

What elements does a benefit plan absolutely need to have?

Today’s benefit plans need to include health care coverage. Nuf’ said. Seriously, healthy employees make for healthy companies. And healthy companies are profitable and successful. It just makes good business sense.

Out of all health benefits offered, which ones do employees appreciate the most?

I’ve found employees are surprised at the number of wellness benefits their health insurance covers. Often they think the only time they can use the benefit is when they are ill or injured. So when employees discover that preventative care exams are included with their coverage…they are very appreciative.