How to get more employees to use EAPs

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Employee assistance programs typically have utilization rates in the low single digits. But, by adding additional services — such as eldercare, identify theft protection, child care programs or wellness coaching — providers are now seeing much higher employee usage.

In 2015, overall EAP utilization was 6.9% nationwide, according to the most recent data from global EAP provider Chestnut Global Partners. The company expects similar utilization rates to continue.

Since stress is the second-most common reason EAPs are used, according to Chestnut, and three-quarters of U.S. employers rank stress as their top health and productivity concern, according to Willis Towers Watson, employers have attempted for years to increase EAP utilization.

One way they are finding that can happen is by bundling additional services with an EAP. By adding additional programs that fall under the work-life umbrella, such as elder and child care, to an EAP, utilization increased by up to 38%, according to EAP provider Optum. Bundling additional products, including wellness coaching, identity theft, financial planning and stress programs, has led to utilization rates of more than 25%, according to Optum.

But the company is aiming even higher. “Given the relevance of products and services that are encompassed in EAPs, we should be getting higher engagement,” says Zachary J. Meyer, SVP of global wellbeing, employee assistance and work life services at Optum. “Double digits — if not 100% — of the workforce.”

Bloomington, Ill.-based Chestnut says requests from employers to bundle EAPs with wellness programs are rising. “The trend of late — and it seems to be increasing — is people don’t want to create separate programs,” says Matt Mollenhauer, Chestnut’s managing director. “Physical and emotional wellness are tied together.”

Those proposals include straightforward wellness coaching, all the way up to disease and fatigue management programs, he adds.

By adding the services that increase utilization, Meyer explains, the EAP can then be rebranded to remove the word ‘EAP.’ “We tell our customers, ‘You can call it whatever you want. You can call it a color.’ Someone did that,” Meyer says.

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The rebranding is important because EAPs have had a “negative stigma,” he adds. “Traditional uses were around mental health and substance abuse,” Meyer says. “People don’t want to admit they have problem and don’t want their employer to know.”

Not discussing bundling these programs with clients would be a missed opportunity, he adds. “EAPs have undergone a resurgence,” Meyer says, adding that EAP sales through Optum’s broker/consultant channel have tripled over the past three years.

Advisers “play a huge role,” he says. “We spend a lot of time getting them up to speed on market trends and how they can strategically talk to their client about how to better leverage EAPs and increase relevance and utilization in the workforce.”

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