Importance of Employment Assistance Programs in the American Workplace

  By Frank Burtnett  |    Thursday September 28, 2023

Category: Columns, Expert Advice


EMInfo Reader:  Why is important for recruiters and staffing professionals to be knowledgeable  about Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)?

Dr. Burtnett: The period leading up to and following the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a new awareness regarding mental wellness in the American place. Building on that concern, a larger of number of employers join existing ones in establishing or expanding Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

EAPS are not new to the American workplace as their origins can be traced to as early as the 1930s. Recent studies conducted by human resource development organizations, however, have found that such programs continue to grow in scope and service coverage and in their popularity with employees. Remaining to be seen is the full extent to which COVID19 and the consequent national call for greater attention to mental wellness will impact worker demand for and participation in such programs.

Never viewed as a substitute for health and medical assistance in other quarters, EAPs have matured in their ability to serve the myriad human growth and development needs of individuals at every level of the U.S. workforce. Most notably, EAPS help employees identify and resolve personal and family issues and problems that have the potential to impact job satisfaction, performance and/or productivity. Programs that focus on worker and workplace effectiveness from a holistic (i.e., the whole person) perspective are no longer viewed as “frills.” Rather they are seen as essential elements in a comprehensive employee benefits offering.

EAPs that once stressed a remedial approach (e.g., substance or alcohol abuse counseling, smoking cessation, etc.) have been expanded to include preventive strategies and components (e.g., career development, healthy eating and living, time and stress management, financial planning, etc.) designed to intervene with personal and work issues before they result in more serious health, family and/or workplace consequences. Compared to their older worker counterparts, Gen Xers and Millennials have been found to resist any stigma associated with seeking assistance for mental health matters that may impede their personal career growth and development and more likely to avail themselves of such services.

EAPS Address Variety of Personal, Family and Career Needs

A comprehensive EAP should address the diverse challenges faced by the contemporary employee and respond accordingly.  A comprehensive menu of preventive and remedial services to individuals and family members should include the following:

  • Mental health services, including individual, marriage, partner and family counseling
  • Drug, alcohol and other addiction counseling and treatment
  • Personal and family issues, including parenting, divorce and family concerns
  • Wellness and health promotion services, including healthy eating, weight management and smoking cessation
  • Financial and legal services, including individual guidance and group education programs
  • Career support services such counseling, onboarding and employee relationship assistance (i.e., remote working), tuition reimbursement, retirement planning and related employee educational benefits

 Offered via a mix of internal (e.g., educational webinars and face-to-face seminars) and external (e.g., contracted services with licensed/certified, professional counselors) venues, these programs and services ensure the confidentiality of the users when such privacy is warranted or requested.

Comprehensive EAPs Produce Positive Results

As EAPS have grown and been utilized by larger numbers of employees, they have more than justified their existence, especially over the long term. Where comprehensive EAPs have been offered in the workplace, the following outcomes have been observed:

  • Greater employee retention through the creation and maintenance of a positive employment culture and climate
  • Resolution of personal mental health issues before they reach problematic stages
  • Improved team building and group participation 
  • Enhanced worker engagement resulting in increased productivity and performance
  • Decreased absenteeism and tardiness
  • Reduced accidents and few workers compensation claims
  • Reduced medical claims due to earlier identification and treatment of mental health and substance issues
  • Smoother transitions during times of closings, mergers, downsizing, etc.

Compared to older workers, young employees seem to worry less about any stigma associated with asking for help with mental health, substance use or related issues. They see EAPs as one of the resources they need to achieve personal career success and satisfaction.

Why Staffing Professionals Should be Attentive to EAPs

The role of the staffing professional in 2023 has grown beyond the “place the right candidate in the right position” posture to one of “place the right candidate in the right position---one where she or he will prosper and grow.” The greatest takeaway for the employer is that EAPs have had a positive influence on employee engagement and retention.

Many Gen Xers and Millennials have moved workplace engagement and career satisfaction ahead of salary when they are examining job options and change opportunities. And when evaluating worker benefits, they appreciate it greatly when their employer places a high premium on ensuring their personal wellness, satisfaction and development.

The Career Mechanic is a bimonthly treatment of a career development issue or problem by Frank Burtnett, Ed.D, an educator, counselor, author, and consultant.  Dr. Burtnett served as the Certification and Education Consultant to the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS) from 1994 to 2021.  Topics are drawn from his popular book, Career Challenges: Straight Talk about Achieving Success in the Technology-Driven, Post-Covid World of Work, 3rd edition.

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Frank Burtnett [Photo] 

Dr. Frank Burtnett has spent his career working with educational and career development entities engaged in the design and delivery of programs and services that bring maximum career success and satisfaction to individuals from across their entire adult life-span.

His academic studies resulted in him being awarded the Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees in counseling by the George Washington University (DC) and the Bachelor of Science Degree by Shippensburg University (PA). He has earned the professional distinction of Fellow of the American Counseling Association.

He is a Registered Counselor (RC478) in the state of Maine and has earned the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and National Certified Career Counselor (NCCC) credentials of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), as well as the Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC), the Certified Temporary Staffing-Specialist (CTS) and Certified Employment Retention Specialist (CERS) credentials of the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS). Further, he served as the NAPS certification and education consultant from 1994 to 2021.


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