Understanding average EAP utilisation rates: traditional vs. alternative Employee Assistance Programs

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The TL;DR:
  • On average, the typical utilisation rate for traditional EAPs sits around 5%, compared to the +40% utilisation rate of alternative EAP providers, like Sonder.
  • Strategies for employers to boost EAP usage include increasing awareness, focusing on preventative care, ensuring employee confidentiality and reducing stigma.
  • More organisations are turning to alternative EAP providers to boost utilisation rates, combining on-demand technology with 24/7 human support for proactive, early interventions.
As an employer, you want to do everything you can to ensure your employees are leveraging the resources you're providing. However when it comes to the average utilisation rates of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), low uptake tends to be the norm.

In the blog, we'll be comparing the average EAP utilisation rates of traditional vs alternative EAP providers as well as providing practical tips to help boost employee engagement with EAP solutions.

Average EAP utilisation rates: The current landscape

The current landscape of average EAP utilisation rates reveals a clear trend: uptake of traditional EAPs is incredibly low.

When assessing recent research*, the average utilisation rate of EAPs across Australia, the UK and the US tends to sit around 5%.

But it's important to remember that this figure is an average. In some industries, such as retail trade, construction and manufacturing, the average utilisation rate is even lower (as low as 2%). On the flip side, industries such as financial services, government and utilities see an above-average utilisation rate, in some cases up to 9%.

Unpacking the causes of low EAP utilisation rates

Despite 80% of Australia's top 500 companies offering EAPs to their employees, average utilisation rates remain stubbornly low. So, what's causing this lack of engagement?

In our joint report with PwC Australia, we revealed three key factors causing low uptake and utilisation of traditional EAPs, which include:

  1. Not built into the culture: Major barriers to access exist for employees, from a lack of awareness of what support is available to them to persistent stigma and discrimination towards staff who experience mental health challenges.
  1. Solutions aren't fit for purpose: Many EAPs still take a one-size-fits-all approach that focuses only on crisis support for late-stage mental ill health, rather than offer preventative, early intervention strategies across all aspects of health, wellbeing and safety.
  1. Poor past experiences: With concerns around quality of care, worries about privacy and confidentiality and delays in receiving care in the past, many employees avoid engaging with traditional EAPs altogether.
of frontline hospital doctors did not know how to access their own EAP.

Average utilisation rates: traditional EAPs vs alternative EAPs

Interestingly, the stats change when we look beyond traditional EAPs. In the case of alternative EAP providers (like Sonder), adopting a more holistic wellbeing model has sparked much higher engagement and utilisation rates of +40%.

Comparison bar chart showing typical employee uptake of traditional EAPs versus best-practice uptake of EAP alternatives

There are a number of reasons why EAP alternatives like Sonder drive high utilisation rates, including:

  • Prevention-focused approach: Taking a proactive approach means employees aren't only seeking help at moments of crisis but addressing poor habits and building skills to cope and manage everything from anxiety to stress.
  • All-in-one model: Removing the guesswork of what support is available and where to find it by leveraging a one-stop-shop design, such as the Sonder mobile app.
  • Diverse methods of access: With 24/7 access and support available through a range of mechanisms (from phone calls to instant text-based chats), employees can receive the care they need, when they need it.

"Forty-eight per cent of Sonder members reach out for mental health support after business hours. That's one in two people whose needs would not be met and whose lives might not be saved without a 24/7 service."

- Dr Jamie Phillips, Medical Director and Head of Member Support, Sonder

Boosting EAP utilisation: A guide for employers

Improving EAP utilisation requires strategic efforts from HR and leadership. The key to boosting uptake is ensuring employees know exactly what support is available to them, how to access it and ensuring the service they receive is prompt, confidential and focused on prevention (not just crisis support).

In practical terms, that means taking steps to:

  • Increase awareness: Implement regular communications about EAP benefits, ensuring your team knows what services are available and how to access them.
  • Reduce stigma: Create a workplace culture that supports mental health and wellbeing openly, with leaders setting the tone for transparency by sharing their own stories to create a psychologically safe environment for staff to access support.
  • Feedback and improvement: Continue to check-in with your team and gather anonymous feedback from employees about their experience with the EAP and adjust the program accordingly.

Looking for more practical tips on how to get your team to engage with your EAP offering? Dive into our top tips for increasing EAP uptake, or watch this clip where Leanne Naber, Sonder's Account Executive and Julia Bageski, Sonder's Head of Customer Success share the questions you should be asking your potential provider when it comes to usage rates.

The impact of low utilisation rates on organisations

Low usage of EAPs isn't just a waste of your company's budget. If left unchecked, low utilisation rates can cause employees to 'suffer in silence', failing to seek timely support for personal or work-related issues that can impact their performance, health and wellbeing.

Over time, this case leads to high absenteeism, lower productivity levels, and poor morale across your business.

But, by learning how to get your employees to engage with your EAP (or EAP alternative) provider, you can unlock powerful benefits, including:

  • Helping employees overcome personal and workplace challenges effectively to ensure they're supported to deliver their best work
  • Fostering a positive, healthy workplace culture that boosts employee retention at scale
  • Unlocking higher levels of organisational productivity and profitability
Tip quote infographic on how to boost employee engagement and program utilisation.

The way forward with Employee Assistance Programs and their alternatives

Want to learn more? Dive deeper into the world of EAP alternatives and discover how they can transform your organisation with our ultimate EAP buyer's guide.

  • Learn how to compare vendor offerings
  • Discover what makes EAP alternatives different
  • Gain insider tips and statistics
  • Write a convincing business case

Want to learn more?

Ready to experience a modern approach to employee care? Contact Sonder today to discover how our platform can benefit your organisation.

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