Mar 6, 2017 7:54 PM

The EAP Shopper’s Checklist: 4 Things to Look For


A high-quality employee assistance program can help your company attract and retain top talent with an enhanced benefits package. It can also provide on-demand support to managers and relieve some of the pressure on your HR team during times of crisis.

That’s the promise, but how do you find an EAP vendor that lives up to it?

If your company already has an EAP, you might be frustrated at investing money into a program that few employees use. Or, perhaps you aren’t certain if you can rely upon your EAP to support your HR team when they need it the most – in high-profile consultations or crisis situations.

If you’re shopping for your company’s first EAP, you’ve seen the options and you’ve seen how similar they all appear. However, if you ask the right questions, you’ll find that programs that appear similar on the surface are often dramatically different in their processes and capabilities.

So what are the right questions? To help you, we’ve put together this 4-point checklist of important characteristics in an EAP program. For an expanded look at each of these points, follow the link for your free copy of our new e-book, “Time to Change Your EAP Provider? Key Qualities to Look for in your Next EAP.”


  1. Trauma Response

You hope a traumatic event — like the death of an employee, a natural disaster, or a robbery — never happens at your workplace. But if it does, you want your EAP beside you, helping your HR and management teams focus their efforts and helping the employees who need the most attention.

When searching for an EAP vendor, look for these trauma response capabilities:

  • Quick access and timely responses. Look for an EAP provider that can offer true 24/7 access and provide immediate connections to specially trained, master’s-level clinicians and other resources who can help managers and employees start dealing with a traumatic incident right away.
  • A specialized team with workplace experience. Choose an EAP vendor with specialized response teams that are able to consult with upper management and other stakeholders on how to deal with employees during and after a crisis.
  • The ability and willingness to work with you for as long as it takes. A good EAP vendor knows the effects of a crisis can linger well after the initial event – up to a year and longer in many cases. They continue to provide support and guidance as your organization works to regain its equilibrium.



  1. Performance Metrics

You need to know how much you’re getting in return for your EAP investment. Unfortunately, it’s not always as clear-cut as measuring the utilization rate (the percentage of employees who use the EAP). And utilization rate isn’t always the best metric to measure. Some EAP providers inflate their metrics by including interactions such as website visits and group training sessions to create the appearance of higher utilization.

To go beyond misleading utilization numbers, look for an EAP with these four qualities:

  • An accurate method for reporting utilization rate. Utilization rate should first identify core utilization for meaningful one-on-one interactions, such as face-to-face, online, or telephone conversations between an employee and an EAP counselor. Other interactions, such as participating in a training event, web site hits, and other ancillary participation should be identified separately, not bundled together with core utilization. This is the standard approach endorsed by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association.
  • A way to measure outcomes. Utilization rate may tell you if your employees use the EAP, but it won’t tell you if it actually helped them. Look for a vendor who can provide metrics on the outcomes achieved by its program.
  • A process for achieving positive long-term outcomes. Ask your potential EAP partners how they work with employees to maximize the chance of a positive long-term outcome.
  • Management consultation capabilities. Managers have an outsized influence on the rest of an organization. So EAP interactions with management can be many times more effective than interactions with individual employees. Look for an EAP with a specialized team of consultation specialists that you feel could handle C-suite interactions.


  1. Benefits Integration

As health care costs increase, so does the need for employee benefits to work together to promote a healthy, productive workforce. This includes medical plans, prescription drug plans, disability plans, and of course, EAPs.

So as you compare different EAPs, look for one with:

  • The ability to work with your company’s other benefit providers. Even better is the ability to enter into formal arrangements with other benefit providers, so EAP counselors can do “warm transfers” to put employees directly in contact with other plans.
  1. Geographic Reach

Even if your company is regional now, if you have growth aspirations, you’ll want an EAP that can grow with you. It used to be common to allow different divisions and regions within a company to offer different benefit programs, but nowadays, companies aim for consistency.

To find an EAP vendor with geographic reach, look for providers with these two qualities:

  • A flexible affiliate network. A good EAP vendor will add resources for your employees when you move into a new geographic area and will add providers on-demand to accommodate member preferences.
  • Global capabilities. If your company is global or going global, look for an EAP that will provide culturally specific and nuanced services that address the global needs of expatriates working overseas, while also meeting the needs of foreign nationals in their home countries.


Begin Your Search

As this checklist makes clear, to understand the differences between EAP vendors, you have to take a more nuanced perspective, beyond utilization rate and cost. Get the whole story in our latest e-book, “Time to Change Your EAP Provider? Key Qualities to Look for in your Next EAP.”

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