More and more employers are providing counselling services through Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP).

Meanwhile, during the last several years, there has been an increase in the number of employees accessing counselling services (Occupational Health, 2012). How can we understand this growing orientation?


Recent trends in economic instability, uncertainty and insecurity have prompted employers to expect a higher level of job performance from their employees, certainly reflected in the results of one particular study where 15% of respondents reported work-related stress (Occupational Health, 2012).

What is even more significant to employers is that a large majority of employees (85% in this same study) report negative personal issues related to depression; stress/anxiety; grief/loss; self-esteem; anger management; domestic violence; interpersonal/relationship; divorce/separation; children/parenting; drug/alcohol mis-use/abuse. To illustrate the serious prevalence of just one of these common-place phenomena, almost 70% of adults with depression are younger than 45 and of these, 70% are actively employed (Putnam & McGibbon, 2004).

One article cites depression as the most costly risk factor in the workplace, estimating that a single employee untreated for depression can cost an employer today what would amount to $5000 – $10 000/year in lost productivity, namely through short-term disability, absenteeism, on-the-job impairment and workers’ compensation (Putnam & McGibbon, 2004). Other effects include, lateness, inability to concentrate, decreased job satisfaction/morale, diminished commitment/motivation and increased interpersonal conflicts.

Of course, it should be noted that all of the effects noted above are multiplied/ intensified when more than one of them takes place simultaneously, as happens quite often. For example, employees experiencing high work/ life conflict are found to be three times more likely than those with low work/ life conflicts to be absent from work (Canadian Policy Research Networks, 2001).

When personal and work-related problems (not just of employees but also of their family members) are not adequately addressed, a worker’s otherwise optimal level of productivity and effectiveness is considerably reduced, sometimes as much as 50-70%. Ultimately, the whole organisation is consequently impacted – negatively disrupting the ability of colleagues to maintain their own optimal job performance and costing employers additional financially losses associated with termination, re-hiring training or legal fees.


The emotional health and well-being of each individual employee is essential in working towards an organization’s mission statement. The organization can viably realise this mandate effectively by responding to work-related stresses and/or personal problems that influence employees’ work performance through advocating accessible and confidential counselling as an effective tool to deal with personal and work-related problems.

EFAPs that include counselling as part of their benefits offer, at no extra charge to the employee, a supportive intervention that ultimately mitigates the negative and often costly outcomes associated with poor job performance, as outlined above. For starters, necessitating a time and place for some employees to therapeutically discharge as well as to work on anger management and aggression is paramount, especially when we accept that workplace violence, both verbal and physical, is not a rare occurrence (Same-Day Surgery, 2009). EFAPs, then, can provide workers, through counselling services, opportunities to ameliorate these and other kinds of interpersonal skills; playing an effective role in preventing both domestic violence victimisation and perpetration (Pollack et al., 2009), in cultivating assertiveness and in improving communication skills, just to name a few.

Here we see how EFAP professionals, such as counsellors, are vital in introducing mental health expertise into the workplace and thus how HR can work to encourage employees to take advantage of such experts so as to successfully work through issues (Seidl, 2008) that might otherwise encumber, directly or indirectly, the workplace. Here we also see the opportunity for EFAP professionals to readily and conveniently facilitate onsite, group, psycho-educational workshops that address certain themes, past incidents or upcoming events/ transitions.

Organizations with EFAP counselling services experience great financial savings in terms of reduced disability management claims, workplace accidents and replacement staff. For example, one poll (Occupational Health, 2011) discovered that more than 50% of their respondents who had attended counselling sessions through their EFAP felt that their situations would have caused them to miss work had they not used this supportive intervention.

After meeting with a counsellor, they felt a 50% increase both in being able to cope with the demands of their job and as well as to find satisfaction in their personal lives (Occupational Health, 2011). In contrast, we all may know a colleague or loved one who ‘copes’ by using substance, a common, albeit destructive, self-medicating response to anxiety and depression (Daniel, 2009) that further exacerbates poor job performance and absenteeism.

When EFAPs offer free counselling services, employees have an immediately accessible way to connect and collaborative with a professional in order to develop more healthy and productive coping strategies instead of resorting to drugs or alcohol. Moreover, they are given the occasion to privately express their inner experiences, to have a sounding board, to heal, to enact change and to re-establish balance and wellness in their lives.


In summary, EFAPs ensure a profitable return for employers in investing in their employees. Whether through one-on-one appointments or organised group workshops, the numerous advantages of offering counselling services through EFAPs amount to a win-win situation at every level within an organisation; that is, for employees and employers alike.

EFAPs’ Advantages for Organisations:
  • Return on EFAP costs estimated to be 4 times the investment
  • Reduction of 20% total payroll costs
  • Decreased health care costs
  • Higher productivity
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Increased employee morale
  • Improved recruitment and retainment of staff
  • Competitive advantage through healthy people
EFAPs’ Advantages for Employees:
  • A place to go for help
  • Professional & confidential counselling
  • Effective problem prevention
  • Better understanding of self and others
  • Willingness to face problems and follow through with treatment
  • Overcoming personal and professional challenges
  • Positive change and personal growth
  • Healthier kids, stronger families & vibrant communities


Daniel, J. (2009). Day in the life: When the tides are right … Jane Hetherington. Therapy Today, 20 (7), 32-34.

Pollack, K., Whitney, A. & Grisso, J. (2010). Employee assistance programs: A workplace resource to Address Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Women’s Health, 19 (4), 729-733.

Putnam, K. & McKibbon, L. (2004). Managing workplace depression: An untapped opportunity for occupational health professionals. American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Journal, 55 (3), 122-131.

Seidl, W. (2008). EAPs are the missing link in the Black review strategies. Occupational Health, 60 (5).

(2012). Increasing number of staff using EAP service, says consultancy. Occupational Health, 64 (3).

(2011). Survey reveals of EAP counselling sessions. Occupational Health, 63 (7).

(2009). What will your staff members do when violence erupts in your workplace. Same-Day Surgery, 33 (4), 33-36.