What’s the return on investment for EAPs?

“The typical analysis produces an ROI of between $3 and $10 dollars in return for every $1 dollar invested in the EA program.”

That is what Attridge and colleagues have reported for the Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) in a 2009 research note, first published in their “Selecting and Strengthening Employee Assistance Programs: A Purchaser’s Guide” publication.

In a study of university employees with the majority having access to face-to-face EAP counselling services, Phillips (2004) found improvements in work productivity for 59% and 62% of 704 and 1,206 cases from 2002 and 2003 respectively. The data published in Employee Assistance Quarterly revealed an ROI of 3.5:1 and 4.3:1 in 2002 and 2003 respectively (Phillips, 2005).

Another empirical study sampling employees with access to face-to-face EAP counselling services demonstrated less absenteeism and improved work productivity for 50% of 882 cases (Kirk, 2006).

In a paper presentation at the 2003 APANIOSH Work, Stress and Health Conference, Attridge (2003) reported improved an average 43% gain in work productivity for 57% of 11,909 cases from a national EAP provider supplying counselling services mostly by telephone.

A more recent presentation at the 2007 Employee Assistance Professionals Association Annual Conference, Baker (2007) documented reduced presenteeism: Based on 3,353 cases from an national EAP provider supplying telephone counselling, low-productivity days were reduced from an average of 30 days to as few as 3.4 to 8.0 days, resulting in an average gain of 58% in work productivity.

In addition to recognition that effective EAPs produce greater work productivity, better employee engagement, less absenteeism, less presenteeism, and reduced turnover, it’s gratifying to know that the return on investment for EAPs isn’t different from that reported for corporate wellness programmes: Berry, Mirabito, & Baun reported in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article that “every dollar invested in the intervention yielded US$6 in health care savings”.

The dollars and sense of EAP services

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide psychological services such as professional counselling to support the mental wellness needs of employees at the workplace.

The implementation of corporate wellness programmes and/or EAPs has been linked to benefits such as better job satisfaction and reduced absenteeism (Parks & Steelman, 2008; Czabala, Charzynska, & Mroziak, 2011; McCleod, 2001; see also McCleod & Henderson, 2003), lower levels of stress and greater use of stress management techniques (Czabala et al., 2011), and employees reporting fewer  difficulties with work due to mental and emotional health issues (Selvik, Stephenson, Plaza, & Sugden, 2004). Specifically, these studies have evaluated workplace promoting mental health programmes and documented their benefits at the level of the individual employee.

Specific programmes to teach employees strategies for stress management have also been found to be effective in reducing stress levels and increasing stress management behaviours. Specifically, stress innoculation training (Cecil & Forman, 1990) and cognitive-behavioural training (Tunnecliffe, Leach, & Tunnecliffe, 1986; Leung, Chiang, Chui, Mak, & Wong, 2011) achieve these for teachers, who perennially report  high levels of occupational stress (Austin, Shah, & Muncer, 2005; Griffith, Steptoe, & Cropley, 1999). The value of promoting workplace mental wellness to the individual is evident enough.

Stronger support for workplace mental health promotion can be found in the figures that workplace stress costs businesses each year. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee a year, or $225.8 billion annually (Stewart, Ricci, Chee, & Morganstein, 2003). A meta-analysis by Baicker, Cutler, and Song (2010) computes a fall of about US$3.27 in medical cost and a fall of US$2.73 in absenteeism cost for every dollar spent on a wellness programme. Another meta-analysis of 56 studies by Chapman (2005) reveals an average saving of 25 to 26% in absenteeism and health costs from wellness programmes.

In a report for the Harvard Business Review, Berry, Mirabito, and Baun (2010) distil the solutions for effective workplace wellness programmes. They comprise good management leadership, alignment of the programme with organizational culture and vision, implementation of a comprehensive wellness programme, affordability and accessibility of the programme, good rapport with providers/vendors, and good communication of the wellness message.