First-time login tip: If you're a REBA Member, you'll need to reset your password the first time you login.
27 Apr 2023
by Karl Bennett

EAPs are evolving into an essential preventative tool, says EAPA

Karl Bennett, chair of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association UK, draws on its latest research into mental wellbeing and the role of EAPs.

EAPs are evolving into an essential preventative tool, says EAPA.jpg


Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) have become much more than an employee benefit. In the context of both growing awareness and stretched NHS resources, EAPs are now a pillar of mental health provision in the UK.

The nature of the new landscape is outlined in Holding it together: UK mental wellbeing and the role of Employee Assistance Programmes. Drawing on data from the UK’s largest EAP providers and use of services between January 2022 and January 2023, the report provides a snapshot of how provision and usage of EAPs as a benefit has changed dramatically over the past 20 years.

In 2003, the market value of EAP provision was £32.2 million. EAPs were being offered by around 3,100 UK employers, meaning they were available to an estimated 4.9 million employees. In the past year around 105,275 employers offered an EAP to 24.45 million employees. The market value is now £118.25 million. This does not include EAPs provided via insurance products such as group life and group income protection, which would make the figure considerably higher. 

Consequently, EAPs now constitute a significant part of the UK’s mental health services, an option that is available to 75% of the entire workforce (estimated by government to be 32.84 million) compared with 15% 20 years’ ago.

EAPs on the frontline

NHS mental health provision has been overwhelmed by demand and continues to be a work-in-progress. As the report data shows, this means EAPs are often being treated as a frontline emergency service and involved with complex, long-term cases of mental illness. 68% of employees contacting EAP services in 2022 were offered counselling (640,250 people used an EAP service, and due to their situation and symptoms, 434,250 were offered counselling). In 2022, EAPs in the UK provided more than 1.375 million counselling sessions. On average, 1.7% of counselling cases came with a ‘red flag’ (involving an immediate and serious risk of suicide). Some EAP providers report red flag cases as being at levels above 3%.

The positive aspect of this landscape is that EAPs are being used. More organisations have made a commitment to employee wellbeing; and there is an essential trust and confidence in EAPs that means staff are willing to share their issues, even in the most serious of cases, with EAP advisors and counsellors.

The future role of EAPs

The big question is what’s next for EAPs. Government and healthcare stakeholders more widely need to be aware of the role EAPs are playing, and what would happen if those services themselves became stretched too far. 

There might be potential for an extended role for EAPs, taking on longer-term counselling support through to a recovery stage, with the right funding and support. Alternatively, and perhaps more realistically, the future of EAPs will be in taking more of a preventative role, ensuring there are earlier interventions among employees in order to avoid the need for counselling, a strong non-clinical service dealing with underlying issues backed up by more training for staff around mental health.