Employee Assistance Programs 101

Employee Assistance Programs 101

It’s well known that before you accept a job, you should take a long look at the company’s benefits to ensure you’re getting everything you need. Often we are so focused on things like paid time off and health insurance that we overlook some of the other things seen as less important perks. By doing that, though, it’s easy to overlook the benefit of an employee assistance program (EAP).

Not every company or organization offers EAPs to their employees. But a lot do. These benefits typically come at no cost to the employees and offer a range of services that will help employees in their personal lives so that, as a result, they can better focus and succeed at work. EAPs are not part of any health insurance plan and, unlike many benefits, they are usually available to both full and part-time employees. 

A free benefit designed to help you better manage your personal life sounds pretty incredible, right? It is! However, since an EAP isn’t a perk that “wows” job candidates enough to convince them to take a job, recruiters rarely bring it up during the interview and hiring process. Because of this, EAPs are often passed over and forgotten about, which is a shame because it's helpful in many ways. 

What Is An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

An EAP is a benefit program that confidentially provides employees with resources to help them manage situations in their personal lives that affect their performance at work. These programs have been around for decades, and for a long time, they focused more on providing counseling services and intervention for things like substance abuse. More recently, though, EAPs have evolved to offer a wider range of support in areas including mental health, financial or legal problems, dependent care, personal/relationship struggles, and even coping with significant workplace events. 

The type of benefits an EAP offers and in what form will vary from company to company, but services are generally at no cost or reduced to the employee. Most basic EAPs offer employees access to several free counseling sessions, including in-person or through video chat, or on the phone. More robust EAPs may also offer employees access to legal advice, financial advisors, basic adoption assistance, nurse advice lines, and referrals to other professionals if an employee needs services beyond what an EAP can provide. In addition to the employee, some EAPs also offer these same services to their spouse/partner and children. 

What An EAP Isn’t

EAPs are fantastic tools for one-time problems, but they are not long-term solutions. Since employees are usually limited to a certain number of appointments with a counselor or other professional under these programs, they’re not great for someone who is looking for ongoing treatment (though an EAP may assist an employee in finding a long-term provider). Additionally, these counselors do not prescribe medications such as antidepressants. If someone wants an EAP referral, there’s a chance they’ll get a recommendation to seek an out-of-network provider, and their insurance won’t cover the cost of appointments. 

Pros and Cons of EAPs



  • The benefit and services are usually free and confidential, or at a significantly reduced price
  • All services are confidential (so employers won’t know who is using them)
  • The number of allotted free appointments are typically enough to help employees through short-term situations 
  • Employees can learn how to manage stress, workplace conflict, etc. better. 
  • EAP referral services offer employees access to more long-term and or specialized providers than they may have found on their own
  • EAPs may serve as evidence that an employer invests in their staff’s mental health and well being
  • Not every EAP is equal, and quality can vary based on program providers
  • The number of appointments available to employees is limited
  • EAP referrals may not align with health insurance benefits (so services may be too expensive)
  • Depending on the program provider, EAPs can sometimes be difficult to navigate 
  • EAP counselors are usually more generalized, so they don’t offer specialized treatments (but they do provide referrals to specialists) 
  • Even if it’s at a reduced cost, some EAPs (or some select services) may require payment

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) & Moms In The Workplace

Access to an EAP can potentially provide help to any employee, but moms can significantly benefit from these programs when they’re going through short-term situations. For instance, if your child is struggling in school and it’s weighing you down so much that it’s distracting you from work, you can call up an EAP counselor and vent about the situation for an hour without having to pay anything. Having access to a judgment-free zone where you can just talk (and get some tools to help you manage the stress of the situation) is invaluable to any mom. Also, depending on your EAP, it may include options for your child or partner to speak with a counselor if they are going through something difficult and could use some extra support. 

If you work for an employer that offers a more robust EAP, you may have access to financial advisors who can help you better manage your money so that you can meet your personal goals (whether it’s creating a long-term savings strategy or trimming down your monthly budget). Or, if you’re going through a divorce or child custody suit, an EAP could provide access to a lawyer who can offer you expert advice or refer you to someone in your area who can provide specialized services. 

Take Advantage of EAPs

If a company provides access to an EAP, you should take advantage of it whenever you need to. It’s still a safe (confidential) space where you can go when you need some extra support—and everyone could use a little help now and then. And even though it’s not a long-term solution, it’s a place to start and a resource that can help you find whatever kind of treatment you need. If you’re not sure whether or not your company offers an EAP, it’s worth talking to your HR representative to find out. 

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- June 1, 2022

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