Feb 18, 2016 2:04 PM
How do you determine whether your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) is worth the investment? Often, the key metric is the utilization rate. EAP providers calculate utilization rates in a variety of ways, which can make it challenging for an organization to compare the value of EAP programs.
The utilization rate should not be the only factor you consider when selecting or retaining an EAP (more on that point later in this article), but it is a key variable. How do EAP providers calculate utilization?
As with most things, there is a preferred method that provides an accurate picture of utilization.
The Standard for Calculating Utilization
Responsible EAP providers closely adhere to the standards set by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) for calculating utilization. EAPA’s formula is actually pretty simple: number of program users divided by total employee headcount. What makes the EAPA standard so reliable is its definition of “program users.”
According to EAPA, a program user is someone with whom an EAP counselor has had a meaningful interaction. A meaningful interaction occurs when the counselor has discussed (either face-to-face, online or via the telephone) an issue with an employee, assessed the situation, and made a recommendation or conducted brief therapy. For example, this scenario would qualify as a meaningful interaction: if an employee had a concern about substance abuse, the counselor discussed it with the employee and referred the employee to a treatment program.
Some employees will not directly seek out help from their EAP counselors, electing to conduct self-directed research. Often, this research will use the content resources that many EAPs provide. Because of that, it’s important to note that this definition does not take into account is the number of employees or dependents who download information or participate in training—even if those are meaningful in different ways. EAPA suggests, in this guide on calculating and communicating about utilization, to calculate a separate “Information-Only Contacts” utilization rate—in order to distinguish between the different types of utilization that are occurring.
Not All Utilization Is the Same
Some EAP providers don’t make this distinction when calculating and reporting on EAP. As a result, they may have a higher-than-average rate because it includes attendees at training sessions, “hits” on the EAP website, and health fair visits. While these kinds of interactions may offer some value, they are not designed to provide substantive employee assistance. Training, for example, is often mandatory, and you have no idea if employees are truly engaged in a meaningful way.
Including these types of “interactions” in the utilization rate treats all interactions as “equal”, inflating the reported percentage of users, and departing from the EAPA standard. Instead of reporting that the utilization rate is 4 to 6 percent, for example, a provider that deviates from the EAPA standard may claim that it’s 15 percent or more. That’s an impressive figure, but does it really give a clear picture of how many of your employees are using the EAP in a way that improves their lives and productivity?
How LifeMatters Calculates Utilization
At LifeMatters, we adhere to the EAPA standard. We firmly believe that a substantive and meaningful interaction with an employee is the most valuable form of utilization, one that offers a valid metric that can be used, along with others, in determining the value of employee assistance.
Beyond the Utilization Rate
LIfeMatters goes beyond the EAPA standard for reporting utilization and uses the Workplace Outcomes Suite to measure the impact of employee interactions in terms of the impact of services on life satisfaction, productivity and job satisfaction. This allows its customers to measurably understand the impact of LifeMatters utilization on key performance measures and the resulting Return On Investment. To date, LifeMatters has accumulated the largest single database on Workplace Outcomes in the world and consistently demonstrates a strong positive impact on all measures.