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How to increase Expat Assistance Programme (EAP) usage?

22 February 2022

As an employer or HR manager you know the wellbeing of your employees really matters to their health and your business. As a result, you have put health related services in place so employees at all levels can access help with their physical or mental wellbeing if they need it. 

One of these supports may be an Employee or Expat Assistance Programme (EAP). Typically, these services provide employees or expats within your business with access to confidential counselling to help with personal or work related issues. However, despite numerous studies showing stress is a leading cause of workplace absence around the world, data from your EAP provider is likely to show the service is significantly underutilised. 


If your 2021 report showed this, you are not alone. Research in the US showed EAP usage averages below 10%. The question is, if we know employees are struggling with stress, work life balance or isolation as a result of working from home for long periods, why are they not reaching out to the free and confidential support offered by EAP programmes?

There appear to be many similarities between why EAPs are underused, whether you offer them to expats on assignments or employees working in their home country:

Despite movements by some businesses to reduce the stigma of mental health, it remains an issue for many employees, especially in the workplace. This is truly unfortunate because feelings of shame or fear of judgment can prevent us from reaching out for support when we are at our most vulnerable. Continue with any actions your business is taking to reduce or eradicate stigma from your workplace like:

  • Providing employees with mental health literacy or mental health first aid
  • Providing management with training to recognise signs of distress in their colleagues
  • Encourage leaders to share their stories about their own mental health
Employees may fear being identified by you, their employer, if they use the EAP. Most EAP services do not provide employers with any kind of identifiable information. In some jurisdictions employees are further protected by law because it is illegal for an EAP to disclose any information provided to an employer.  
Some employees may believe they have to reach out to management or HR in order to access EAP services. This is not the case. EAPs can be accessed directly by the employee however it is critical that employers share this information and contact details regularly. 
Employees may not be aware of just how helpful counselling and talk therapy can be. Speaking to someone with a neutral standpoint who is professionally trained is a proven way to reframe how we deal with life’s difficulties. Communicating this to employees may encourage them to make more use of the employee/expat assistance programme.
There may be a belief amongst employees that their issue is not significant enough to contact the EAP. There may be a view that to receive help they need to be struggling with serious depression or a substance abuse issue when, in reality, issues do not need to be as significant. Stress at work, anxiety, financial concerns or worries about family are all reasons enough to get in touch with an EAP. Communicate that it is often better to get support sooner rather than later so a person can be provided with strategies to prevent a problem turning into a crisis.    
If you want to get better value for the EAP services by encouraging use, there are some steps you can take: 

Take every opportunity to make employees at all levels aware of the existence of the EAP. Encourage them to get in contact with the EAP for all of life’s difficulties. Don’t wait for a problem to become a significant burden. Early intervention is best. Share EAP details in:

  • All induction programmes for new or recently promoted employees
  • Pre-assignment training for expats
  • Company town halls
  • Team meetings
  • Employee newsletters/emails
  • Posters in bathroom stalls 

Explain to all employees how the EAP works - what is reported on and how confidentiality is guaranteed. For some employers you may only receive a report with the number of employees who availed of the service or possibly have a random number allocated to them. Either way the business will not be able to ascertain:

  • Who is using the service
  • Why they are using the service 
  • Anything disclosed during an employee’s use of the service 

It’s easy for all of us to think asking for help is a sign of weakness. It is perfectly normal for everyone to struggle with the difficulties everyday life can present at one stage or another. Instead, reaching out for help should be communicated as a sign of strength.

It is another way to look after ourselves to ensure we are getting the most out of life and our professional careers. All it takes is a mind shift towards viewing our mental health in the same way as physical health. In many ways it is, it’s just a different part of our body that is hurting. 

The benefits of increasing employee usage of EAPs are not only moral, a study of over 24,000 US employees showed absenteeism dropped by 27% amongst employees who used EAP. Encouraging employees to take full advantage of support services is also likely to impact your organization’s bottom line.