Employee assistance program
An employee assistance programs (EAP) is an employee benefit programs offered by many employers. EAPs are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their job performance, health, and well-being. EAPs generally include short-term counseling and referral services for employees and their household members. Supervisors may also refer employees (supervisor referral) based upon unacceptable performance or conduct issues.
In 2007, two researchers from the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland conducted research on EAPs in Europe. Tony Buon & John Taylor reported a much higher awareness of EAPs in the United Kingdom and Ireland than in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. They also found that the HR and other managers involved with EAPs were working at a relatively senior level but had a relatively low level of participation in the buying decision; there is a possible mismatch of services included in EAPs compared to what respondents actually want. The researchers also reported that purchasers generally believe that EAPs provide value for money. They also found little difference between organizations and participating countries in the reasons for establishing and maintaining EAPs or in fact in the anticipated benefits.
Employees and their household members may use EAPs to help manage issues in their personal lives. EAP counselors typically provide assessment, support, and referrals to additional resources such as counselors for a limited number of program-paid counseling sessions. The issues for which EAPs provide support vary, but examples include:
- substance abuse
- occupational stress
- emotional distress
- major life events, including births, accidents and deaths
- health care concerns
- financial or non-work-related legal concerns
- family/personal relationship issues
- work relationship issues
- concerns about aging parents
An EAP's services are usually free to the employee and their household members, having been prepaid by the employer. In most cases, an employer contracts with a third-party company to manage its EAP. Some of these companies rely upon other vendors or contracted employees for specialized services to supplement their own services, such as: financial advisors, attorneys, travel agents, elder/child care specialists, and the like.
In the Unites States, California requires EAP providers who deliver actual counseling services on a pre-paid basis for more than 3 sessions within any six-month period to have a Knox-Keene license. This is a specialty license for psychological services and is mandated by the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975. The state's Department of Managed Health Care regulates these licensed plans and assists consumers with regard to grievances, access to quality care, and ensuring that the EAP has an appropriate level of tangible net equity to deliver services to plan members. Title 28, Rule 1300.43.14 of the California Code of Regulations allows EAPs without a Knox-Keene license to request an exemption if they solely refer callers to external services and do not provide the actual services themselves.
Benefits for employers
Some studies indicate that offering EAPs may result in various benefits for employers, including lower medical costs, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and higher employee productivity. Critics of these studies question the scientific validity of their findings, noting small sample sizes, lack of experimental control groups, and lack of standardized measures as primary concerns. Proponents, however, argue that the consistency of positive findings across studies in different service sectors denote at least some positive effect of programs, even if the most effective components of such programs have not been determined. EAPs may also provide other services to employers, such as supervisory consultations, support to troubled work teams, training and education programs, and critical incident services.
Employee assistance programs have been criticized for their lack of impartiality in cases where an employee seeks assistance due to work-related issues, or where an employer recommends that an employee seek help through the program. Programs where EAP providers are employed by the same company as the program participants are particularly criticized as being another arm of company management. EAPs lose their ability to identify troubled employees when they are managed by external insurance companies or managed care affiliates (800# hotlines), whose primary focus is on saving health dollars at the expense of outreach and the identification of troubled employees who pose risk to the work organization.
Most employee assistance programs date back to the 1960s and 1970s as in-house alcoholism programs that formally recognized a recovering alcoholic executive's Alcoholics Anonymous 12th Step work. San Francisco Bay Area companies with such programs include Standard Oil and Bechtel Corporation. In the early to mid-1970s such programs expanded their focus to include emotional, family and drug-addiction problems, and hired more broadly-trained counselors to provide short-term counseling and referral to outside resources. San Francisco Bay Area companies who started broad based programs during this period include Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Wells Fargo Bank. The shift from in-house to external programs began in the late 1970s - early 1980s time frame as acceptance of the value of EAPs grew and concerns developed over confidentiality and privacy.
In 1997, Tony Buon and Xiaoping Zhu developed the first EAP in the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Shanghai and began promoting the EAP concept throughout China  The Hong Kong Christian Service also provided EAPs in the then UK-administered Hong Kong from 1993 and reported “good usage” by Chinese people of their EAP. Today there are more than 20 providers of EAPs in China 
- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Occupational health psychology
- Work-life balance
- Workplace interventions
- Workplace stress
- Workplace wellness
- Buon, T & Taylor, J (2008) A Review of the EAP Market in the United Kingdom and Europe. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, Vol. 23(4) 425-443 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15555240802540079?queryID=%24%7BresultBean.queryID%7D&#.VS-4FPnF98E
- EAP Treatment Impact on Presenteeism and Absenteeism: Implications for Return on Investment, Hargrave et Al.
- EAP Effectiveness and ROI, Attridge et Al.
- The Bully at Work, Namie, 2000, 2003, 2009
- What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know by Anton Hout, 2010
- Zhu, X, Wang, Z, and Buon, T (2012). Trauma Counselling in the PRC. International Handbook of Workplace Trauma Support, 1st Ed. Edited by R. Hughes, et. al. John Wiley. http://www.buon.net/Zhu%20Buon%20China%20Trauma%20Chapter.pdf
- Fong, D., & Lam, K. (1998, 5–7 March). Workplace counselling: A study of its users and effectiveness. Paper presented at the Asia Pacific Conference of Employee Assistance Programme, Hong Kong
Professional associations in the employee assistance program industry:
- Employee Assistance Professionals Association – worldwide association
- Employee Assistance European Forum – 23 European nations
- Employee Assistance Society of North America – United States and Canada
- Asia Pacific Employee Assistance Roundtable - Asia Pacific
- Associated Counsellors & Psychologists - Australia
- Associated EAP - Employee Assistance Association
- Employee Assistance Professionals Association - United Kingdom
- Employee Assistance Programme Association - Ireland