The Disadvantages of Employee Assistance Programs

by Ruth Mayhew; Updated September 26, 2017

Employers that provide employee assistance programs do so with the expectation that an added benefit will improve the overall well-being of their workforce. In addition to the expense of an employee assistance program, there are disadvantages such as employee perception of confidentiality, effectiveness and results of employee assistance and misuse of EAP services.

EAP Expense

Analyzing the return on investment of your employee assistance program should reveal positive results in terms of improved productivity and overall employee satisfaction. However, the cost to provide an EAP might outweigh the benefits and, ultimately, become a burden you don't want to shoulder. Offering in-house EAP services to employees can be costly. Resources necessary to get an EAP up and running include program development and implementation, recruiting licensed professionals and maintaining an entity separate from the human resources department. Although many EAPs are offered in conjunction with a employer-provided group health plan, the money might be better spent offering more substantial health-plan benefits.

Confidentiality

The information employees provide to EAP counselors should be maintained with strict confidentiality. However, there are instances where a licensed counselor has a professional obligation to report information an employee shares if there's an imminent threat to the employee or other individuals. In addition, persons who have knowledge of an employee's visit to the EAP might intentionally or inadvertently disclose information that compromises the confidential nature of EAPs. When employees believe there's a breach of confidentiality, they have reason to lose faith in the EAP and the employer, as well.

Effectiveness

A disadvantage of employee assistance programs is their questionable effectiveness. The effectiveness of your company's EAP depends on the level of expertise of EAP providers and its counselors. An EAP provider that doesn't employ qualified experts is incapable of rendering helpful advice to employees and risks losing its reputation as an effective EAP provider. Consequently, the EAP benefit your company provides to employees also is ineffective. The value of your EAP benefit sharply declines when the program offers little to help employees. In addition, when employees receive poor advice from EAP counselors, it affects employees' perceptions about whether the EAP is any benefit at all.

Misuse

Employee misuse of EAP services can become a serious disadvantage, particularly when it comes to using the EAP benefit as a way to suspend disciplinary action. Employees have been known to claim they are struggling with substance abuse problems to avoid an adverse employment action. They further claim they will seek help through the employer's EAP to combat their addiction. This kind of stop-gap excuse puts the employer in a precarious position because of the implications concerning protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employees who misuse EAP services in this way know employers are prohibited from taking adverse action if there is any indication the employee has a disability.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.