What is an employee assistance programme (EAP)?

An employee assistance programme (EAP) is a set of professional services specifically designed to support staff and improve wellness and healthy functioning in the workplace. It can be provided in the workplace setting by internal professional EAP service or it can be provided by  external counsellors and other EAP professionals or using a  combination of both as appropriate. It can assist  (1) work organisations in addressing productivity issues and (2) “employee clients” in identifying and resolving personal concerns, including, but not limited to, health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress, or other personal issues that may affect job performance.

How does an EAP serve organisations and their employees?

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) serve organisations and their employees in multiple ways, ranging from consultation at the strategic level about issues with organisation-wide implications to individual assistance to employees and family members experiencing personal difficulties.

In general, an EAP is a set of professional services specifically designed

  • to improve and/or maintain the productivity and healthy functioning of the workplace and to address a work organisation’s particular business needs
  • through the application of specialised knowledge and expertise about human behaviour and mental health.


EAP Core Technology

The employee assistance programme Core Technology (EAP Core Technology) represents the essential components of the employee assistance profession. These components combine to create a unique approach to addressing work organisation productivity issues and “employee client” personal concerns affecting job performance and ability to perform on the job. The EAP Core Technology consists of the following:
(1) Consultation with, training of, and assistance to, work organisation leadership (managers, supervisors, and union stewards) seeking to manage the troubled employee, enhance the work environment, and improve employee job performance, and outreach to, and education of, employees and their family members about availability of EAP services;

(2) Confidential and timely problem identification/assessment services for employee clients with personal concerns that may affect job performance;

(3) Use of constructive confrontation, motivation, and short-term intervention with employee clients to address problems that affect job performance;

(4) Referral of employee clients for diagnosis, treatment, and assistance, plus case monitoring and follow-up services;

(5) Consultation to work organisations in establishing and maintaining effective relations with treatment and other service providers and in managing provider contracts;

(6) Consultation to work organisations to encourage availability of, and employee access to, health benefits covering medical and behavioural problems, including but not limited to alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental health and emotional disorders; and

(7) Identification of the effects of EA services on the work organisation and individual job performance.

EAPs have the unique distinction within the corporate body in addressing the twin focus of employee well being and organisational performance. This gives EAPs the opportunity to reach people who would not otherwise have access to the support from which they may benefit.

Models of EAP Service delivery take mainly Two forms in Ireland

  • Internal Model
    Internal EAP services are provided solely by an employee or employees of the company or organisation. Smaller organisations may employ a single EAP professional, either full time or part time while larger organisations may have several staff who share the various administrative, consultative, assessment and referral functions. Internal programmes are most commonly structured as part of an employer’s Human Resourced Department or Occupational Health Department. EAP Professionals are trained and qualified to provide the full range of EAP services viz. counselling, referral, support and information.
  • External Model
    External EAP services are provided by an outside service provider on a contractual basis. External EAP services usually provide training, education and promotion during the launch of the service to encourage the use of the EAP service. The service would provide mental health support confidentially to employees. Direct line assess is essential allowing employee to make contact with the EAP directly, ensuring confidentiality. External services provide counselling, information, and support delivered by mental health professionals, usually based off site of the organisation.
  • Internal/External Combination Model
    There may be an Internal Provider, with external professionals carrying out some of the functions on a contractual basis.
  • Consortium Model
    Several small employers join together to establish a shared EAP or jointly contract with an external provider.

How do I know which to choose?

A service delivery model is chosen which best reflects organisational and employee needs. Factors to be considered include size and diversity of client population, number and location of sites, budget and existing internal resources.

All EAPs, while having common core elements, should be tailored to meed the needs of the particular organisation using the EAP. Determining the needs of the company or organisation is very important, as it will inform the programme planning and development and the choice of EAP model. Before an EAP is introduced there needs to be a clear analysis of the EAP aims and objectives; the way the EAP should be designed to meet those objectives; and how the objectives will be monitored.

Professional guidance on the type of model which best suites any organisation is available from EAPA Irl, and independent EAP professionals.

Do your own research – find out from companies with EAPs how their particular model works for them.

Please also refer to the Ireland Standards of Practice and Professional Guidelines available in the members area.

How do I become an EA professional?

Fundamentally, employee assistance is the application in the workplace of knowledge about behaviour and behavioural health to improve both personal and workplace productivity and healthy functioning. That means the employee assistance profession is an unique integration of organisation development, behavioural health, human resources, and business management. Most employee assistance professionals have knowledge and experience in a behaviour health field such as psychology, social work or counselling, and some may be drug and alcohol counsellors.

EA professionals also enter the profession with backgrounds in human resources and organisational development.  Because the employee assistance profession draws on the knowledge and skills of a variety of professional fields, a lot of  professional development happens through continuing education.

Criteria for membership of EAPA Ireland can be found on the application form in the Join now area.