Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP)—measuring return on investment


How do you measure the impact of an EAP in your organisation? For individual employers, the essential issue (in terms of measuring return on investment) is understanding the measures and evaluating processes used by the EAP practitioner for your programme.

What were the performance targets you set for your EAP when you commissioned the programme?

Typical performance targets include:

  • Improvement in productivity at work
  • Reduction in absenteeism
  • Reduction in medical benefit costs
  • Improvement in manager productivity
  • Reduction in work-related accidents
  • Reduction in employee turnover
  • Increase in skill, resilience and general functioning

“EAP is best implemented when proper organisational consultation has been done,” says Andiswa Lefakane. “The consultation plays a diagnostic role, such that the EAP programmes can yield meaningful results through individual employees. The EAP-SA standards are in support of this thinking. A well-designed annual EAP implementation plan would help to roll out the necessary interventions and ensure that all the gaps identified through the consultation are addressed. The aforementioned performance indicators are the success and the one critical factor in the wellness of its human capital.”

Most EAPs provide employers with utilisation reports to demonstrate their effectiveness, but it is important to look beyond the metrics and examine the impact on the employees, on the business and how the EAP has positively affected employee performance and their ability to stay at work, as well as their overall functioning.

“Through years of practice, one can argue that there is a correlation between the quality of the EAP interventions and programmes implemented and the work performance. The onus is on the EA practitioner to demonstrate that, in the presentation of the utilisation report, the employer should see the return on investment,” adds Lefakane. “For example, if the utilisation report depicts high-stress levels in the workplace it is expected that the EA practitioner should also make intervention recommendations of how to reduce those stress levels. The definition of EAP in the EAPA–SA standards outlines the unique role of EAP through the use of EA core technologies.”

An EAP is a valuable resource to help increase employee engagement and should form part of the development of any organisational engagement programme. EAPs have a vital part to play in achieving employee engagement in the three key areas:

  • Emotional engagement—being involved emotionally with one’s work
  • Cognitive engagement—focus while at work
  • Physical engagement—being willing to ‘go the extra mile’

Positive engagement in each of these areas can only occur when employees are not distracted by personal life, work life or health and well-being issues. The focus of a good EAP is on providing the information, advice and support, which will enable employees to resolve issues of this nature before they affect the engagement and performance. Organisations with an EAP in place report lower levels of employee anxiety, dissatisfaction and staff turnover, along with higher levels of growth and development opportunities, higher levels of meaningful work and more equitable remuneration. Whether this is as a result of implementing an EAP or because the organisation already has a culture of fostering better working environments, it is highly likely to be a combination of these two factors working in unison.

“EAP Interventions, such as wellness days, are excellent opportunities for employee engagement, on condition they offer a well thought out array of activities. EA chapter development meetings educate EA practitioners in this regard. The EA practitioner should organise a wellness day of such a standard that everyone—from the most senior person of the organisation down to the lowest-ranked individual—should be looking forward to attending the event because of the benefits they will derive from it. In my previous employ, we even brought in a nutritionist who demonstrated how to prepare healthy lunch boxes and displayed multivitamins to keep individuals energised and focussed on a wellness event,” says Lefakane.

21st-century human capital

Your ideal talent is not attracted to money alone. Today’s job seekers are not only drawn by a handsome remuneration package, they also want their job to be a meaningful and rewarding experience and part of their life, one they enjoy and feel passionate about. In the 21st century, employees will look for new positions if they don’t feel engaged and purposeful in their work.

“The EA practitioner is far better positioned to advocate for such an environment on behalf of the employees as a result of the trends that are detected from the EAP utilisation reports. Trends such as high accident rates indicate that contributory factors might include exhaustion, in which case, the EAP’s report can help to implement the reduction of hours and the introduction of increased shift work. This is one example of how EAPs can assist an organisation to create meaningful work environments,” says Lefakane.

In their Global Human Capital Trends 2014, Deloitte’s research on the 21st century workforce shows that, “by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennials. At the same time, baby boomers are slow to retire, so Human Resource Managers are going to need to find effective ways to manage an increasingly diverse workforce, says Lefakane.

“Setting aside all exaggerated and stereotyped claims about what millennials and boomers want from life, Deloitte’s report confirms that managers must prepare for a change of practice.

“If the old recruitment, leadership and retention strategies don’t appeal to employees, then what will? Millennials, primed by always-on social networking and mobile technology, want to give and receive frequent feedback. A rising number of employees of all generations want less formal, more flexible working arrangements.”

Lefakane added that any company that fails to provide what its employees want will soon lose its most valuable human capital to wiser competitors. “The choice is simple: adapt to the new workforce, or face a huge drop in employee engagement and performance—with a matching rise in employee turnover.”[Source:]

What is employee engagement?

Research conducted by The Institute for Employment Studies (IES UK) reveals that the behaviours demonstrated by engaged employees are:

  • A positive attitude towards—and pride in—the organisation
  • Belief in the organisation’s products/services
  • A perception that the organisation enables the employee to perform well
  • A willingness to behave altruistically and be a good team player
  • An understanding of the bigger picture and a willingness to go the extra mile

The IES report goes on to say: “These workplace factors show strong and consistent relationships with employee satisfaction, mental health, and retention. Engagement has clear overlaps with the more exhaustively researched concepts of commitment and organisational citizenship behaviour but there are also differences. In particular, engagement is two-way: organisations must work to engage the employee who, in turn, has a choice about the level of engagement to offer the employer.”[Source:]

Management’s role works in tandem with EAPs work to foster employee engagement. Employee engagement has an ebb and flow, as not every single employee is engaged at work all of the time. Understanding this, employers should focus their attention on workplace factors that typically drive engagement over time, with beneficial employee and organisational outcomes.

“In doing this, it shows that the employer cares and is not just driving their employees to perform like machines. EAP Induction programmes are highly instrumental in introducing this culture as a way of helping a new employee to settle in at their organisation. When employee engagement begins to wane due to other factors within the organisation, then they can at least approach the EAP because they know that their role is to support them in times of trials in the workplace. These are some of the tactics that contribute to voluntary participation in the EA programme,” says Lefakane. The strongest driver of engagement is a sense of feeling valued and involved:

  • Involvement in decision-making
  • The opportunity for employees to voice their ideas, have managers listen to these ideas and value employees’ contributions
  • The opportunity for employees to develop their jobs
  • The extent to which the organisation is concerned for their employees’ health and well-being.

Further drivers for engagement include:

Understanding the bigger picture

It is important for employees to see the link between their role and that of the larger organisation. Providing your staff with an understanding of their contribution towards reaching these goals provides motivation and increased engagement. Most employees will routinely get to work on time and will try to complete assigned tasks without necessarily feeling a sense of achievement but an employee who sees a clear link in how their role contributes to the success of the organisation will go the extra mile and, in doing so, will help to create organisational wealth.

Identifying with organisational culture

The bond between an employee and the organisation is cemented when the employee identifies with the culture of the organisation, as witnessed by:

  • A common set of core values
  • Leadership in maintaining the values at all levels of the organisation
  • Ongoing information on the extent to which the values are adhered to
  • An employee is engaged and motivated if they find their work environment to be enabling and supportive.
  • “EAP is instrumental in cultivating a conducive culture for an organisation; for example, an organisation that promotes work-life balance for employees positions the organisation as one that is the best place at which to work,” says Lefakane. “Employees actually choose employers based on many personal things and one of them is organisational culture. EA Practitioners can benefit from attending chapter activities as they are afforded the opportunity to widen their knowledge base in improving their organisational cultures.”

Recognition and reward

The bottom line is that people work to earn. When there is transparency around company remuneration practices—and when employees trust that they are treated with equal respect—it boosts morale, improves loyalty and also increases your chances at hiring top talent in your industry. Equitable pay—coupled with recognition and reward programmes—greatly enhances motivation and leads to commitment and engagement.

Ongoing education and training

Today’s millennial workforce constantly looks at enhancing their knowledge and skill base. In addition to the benefit to employees, providing a learning culture is essential for organisations to remain relevant in today’s constantly changing business landscape.

Performance management

An effective performance management system contributes positively to employee engagement.

Goal setting: Every employee needs a clear understanding of the expectations for their work, including an understanding of where they fit into the company and how they contribute to the overall success of the organisation.

Management and coaching: Improved employee performance and engagement is a result of consistent feedback and coaching. It is essential to provide the proper training and development programmes which address performance and skill gaps.

Career development and planning: Engaged employees require quality feedback on their performance on a regular basis, as well as specific details on how they can improve. Once skill gaps have been identified, employees have clear insight into the skills they need to develop if they wish to progress in their career.


Several research studies reveal that most resignations happen because an employee is not satisfied with their boss. An organisation invests well when it invests time and effort in grooming leaders who are aligned to its goals, culture and people. Companies with engaged employees see culture as a cause rather than an effect and leaders are expected to take responsibility for creating a culture that makes it easy for employees to engage.

“The leadership of an organisation plays a paramount role in the successful implementation of an EA programme, which is why EA practitioners need to conduct training and refresher courses on how to identify ‘troubled employees’. When the leadership has undergone such training, then they can begin to see their value in ensuring that their human capital is well,” says Lefakane.

Benchmarking to international standards

Investors in People (IIP)

Investors in People is the international standard for people management, defining how to lead, manage and support people well for sustainable results. There are 13 000 businesses across the world accredited with the Investors in People Standard. Investors in People sets the standard for productive, inclusive and sustainable workplaces that get the very best from people. Communities are set to gain through shared standards of good leadership and people development, and individuals benefit from working in organisations that lead, support and manage people well, while employers benefit from an increase in high performing workplaces.

Reflecting leading workplace trends, the IIP Standard has been developed to describe the capabilities your organisation needs to succeed and highlights the small steps required to achieve excellence.

By meeting the Investors in People Standard, you can be confident that you’re among the very best in the world when it comes to people management across the following criteria:

  • Leading
  • Supporting
  • Improving

International Labour Organisation (ILO)

The United Nations ILO agency brings together governments, employers and workers’ representatives of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.

Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that are productive and deliver a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives as well as equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

There are four strategic objectives at the heart of the ILO’s Decent Work agenda:

  • Set and promote standards and fundamental principles and rights at work
  • Create greater opportunities for women and men to enjoy decent employment and income
  • Enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all
  • Strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.
  • “EAP has a very critical role to play in enhancing work conditions, however, it takes a substantial amount of broad-mindedness to achieve that.

“EA chapter meetings are a good ground to acquire such broadness because of the knowledge that is imparted and the networks that you develop. It is for this reason that EAPA-SA standards dictate that every EA practitioner must be an active member of the chapter in order to keep abreast with EA issues,” adds Lefakane.

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