Back to the newsletter >

Employee Assistance Programs: the past and the future

An increasing number of employers are offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to help workers deal with different kinds of problems that may threaten their health, impair their work performance or affect their work attendance.

Historical perspective

Less than a century old, EAPs have evolved considerably since their beginning in the 1940s. They were first developed in large organizations in the form of programs for alcoholism, eventually becoming external programs for organizations of all sizes. These shifts can be attributed mainly to increasing acceptance of the value of EAPs and concerns about confidentiality and privacy.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (2007 benefits survey), 52% of small companies (less than 100 employees), 76% of medium-sized companies (100 to 499 employees) and 89% of large companies (more than 500 employees) now offer EAPs.

Benefits of EAPs

EAPs offer benefits to a company by providing lower insurance premiums, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, improved employee morale and increased employee commitment and engagement (Mulligan, 2007). Even more recently, an exhaustive national study was conducted with more than 3,000 employers in November 2009. The results showed that the cost of EAPs represented just a small fraction of the total costs of employee benefits and therefore can be one of the most cost-effective tools of all the benefits offered to employees (Attridge et al., 2009).

However, there are some important factors that can affect the numerous advantages of EAPs. First and foremost, the employer must ensure that the EAP is promoted effectively so that employees use it optimally and that the company’s productivity is as high as possible. Additionally, employers must also make sure that the EAP provider is credible and effective.

What is the EAPA?

The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) is the world’s largest, oldest, and most respected membership organization uniting employee assistance professionals from more than 40 countries. It provides these professionals with information from around the world and offers support in their field. EAPA’s 2013 World EAP Conference was held recently in Phoenix, Arizona, from October 16 to 19. To learn more about EAPA, visit its website at:

Optima Global Health was there!

Constantly aiming for improvement and innovation, Optima Global Health was among the few Canadian EAP companies that were represented at this unique and enriching gathering of EAP professionals from around the world.

When attending a conference of this magnitude, it becomes clearer than ever that Employee Assistance Programs have come a long way. They are now used in most parts of the world to address countless problems affecting employees in all areas of today’s workforce.

Now what?

In today’s global economy and its ever-changing workplace, one important point is clear: even though EAPs are more essential than ever, EAP providers must evolve and find new and better ways to help employees and organizations remain healthy and productive.

Adapting to change, managing conflicts, confronting unhealthy lifestyle habits, dealing with generational and cultural differences, and adjusting to technological advances are only some of the new issues that present challenges for EAP providers.

What does the future look like for EAPs? There’s no way of knowing, but the evolution is sure to continue!


ATTRIDGE, M., T. AMARAL, T. BJORNSON, E. GOPLERUD, P. HERLIHY, T. MCPHERSON, L. TEEMS. “EAP effectiveness and ROI.” EASNA Research Notes 1, 3 (2009). Excerpted from

MULLIGAN, P. “The prevalence of employee assistance programs and the employee participation rates of Long Island companies.” Proceedings of the Northeast Business & Economics Association, 2007, p. 68-71. Excerpted from

National Business Group on Health. “An Employer’s Guide to Employee Assistance Programs.” 2008. Excerpted from