8th October 2020

EAP Calculator delivers ROI figures for a future of benchmarking

18th September, 2018

Neil Mountford

Buy-in for employee wellbeing initiatives has always been hampered by a lack of hard data. Making a case for investment into mental health benefits has meant scratching around for impact on absence rates or relying on intangibles like the value for engagement and employer branding.

While wellbeing initiatives have come to be accepted as the 'right thing' to do, there's an urgent need for evidence and attention to real-life figures. According to the Government's Thriving at Work report last year, the cost of poor mental health among employees is costing employers between £33 and £42 billion. UK employers bear much of the burden of the costs of ill-health, chronic disease and incapacity, and they need to start having a much better grasp of which interventions help them mitigate against these costs. It's time that HR professionals - and the industry - is in a position to demonstrate the Return on Investment from an Employee Assistance Programme.    

The value of EAPs

Two years ago, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) UK commissioned The Work Foundation to investigate the impact of EAPs. This found that EAPs are among the most commonly used wellbeing interventions in the UK with close to half of the workforce (a total of almost 14 million) having access to an EAP via their employer.

Value was found to be delivered in many different ways to employers. 67% of HR managers use an EAP as part of the organisation’s health and wellbeing plan; around half of HR managers said an EAP was introduced to help reduce organisational sickness absence and 48% to provide employees with support for particular issues such as debt or relationship issues, 33% to improve productivity. In terms of mental health more specifically, EAPs work with employers to mitigate organisational risk and promote employee wellness by helping to identify and rectify unhealthy work practices, offering educational campaigns for employees, delivering workplace mediation and providing mental health first aid coaching and guidance for line managers.

EAPs are also an important resource for managers looking for support. The research found that 68% say the EAP is used by managers asking for support on how to manage workplace issues, for management consultation (49%) and management information and employee and organisational interventions (44%).

But at the same time, very few providers or their employer clients have been able to collect data in any systematic way beyond basic take-up and satisfaction surveys. There's been evidence from a small number of relevant pieces of research: for example, a US study that suggests a range between $4 and $10 return on a $1 investment in an EAP; work with the Australian Fire Service found that mental health training for managers led to real impact on work-related absence and an ROI of £9.98 for each pound spent; and from Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers highlighted a significant return for employers investing in mental health interventions, an average of £4.20 for every £1 (with a range up to £9). But, so far, nothing that would provide an accessible tool for any employer and EAP provider to use as a standard measure.

EAPA UK has stepped in to fund the Institute of Employment Studies (IES), to design and develop an EAP calculator to fill this critical gap.

Employer support

Three major employers were involved in piloting the initial model for the calculator, giving us the opportunity to assess what kinds of data were routinely recorded and available and the areas of the organisation or staff groups where the cost burden of absence was higher or lower. The calculator asks the employer to input data or informed estimates of the number of employees, annual cost of the EAP per person, absence data (days lost per employee per year, absence costs per employee (and if this figure isn’t available a default figure from CIPD data is used), the reduction in absence levels estimated to be attributable to EAP use (again with a CIPD default figure if necessary); and productivity data: the percentage of staff using the EAP in the current year, the value of a fully productive employee and an estimate of the increase in productivity assumed to be achieved by reducing absence and presenteeism levels.

Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability at one of the employers involved, the Royal Mail Group, said: “It is proven that work is good for you, and there are times when people might need some support to help them stay in work. Some employees face a range of health and wellbeing challenges - either mental, physical or both. Ensuring you have an EAP service available 24/7 is not only good for business, but more importantly is good for employees and the communities they live and work in. Being able to analyse health data is vital to our health and wellbeing strategy of improving the health and wellbeing of our employees through the prevention of physical and mental harm. As a global organisation we wanted to support a worthwhile initiative like the EAP calculator because of the impact and benefits of EAPs not only to employers and their employees, but also the wider communities where people live.”

The calculator delivers a results page detailing absence costs, income from productivity gains, the cost of EAP intervention and an estimate of Return on Investment based on a simple estimate of the additional productivity benefits gained per £1 of intervention costs. There is also a ‘slider’ facility allowing the user to vary the value of each input value to ask ‘what-if’ questions - for example, to vary the estimated cost per employee of an EAP, or EAP usage rates.

Clara McSweeney, HR Business Partner, MTR Crossrail said: “Wellbeing and support for employees is a key role for the HR team and it is useful to be involved with a project like this which highlights the benefits of the work we do. Calculating ROI is important as this helps us to measure the real benefit of the offering to staff and the value to the business overall. Using the calculator, we can look at any trends within the data and then focus further wellbeing initiatives around trying to prevent the root causes of issues requiring EAP support.”

Promoting EAP services

Maximising the value and ROI of an EAP is intrinsically linked to how well EAP services are promoted and understood in the workplace. A recent US study revealed how this has a significant and positive impact on overall EAP usage, with promotional material s being the number one source of referral into the EAP.

EAPA urges employers to work with their EAP providers, to tap into their experience and expertise, and create promotional plans tailored to the needs of the organisation. This includes advising on which channels have been proven to work most effectively and developing the messaging around EAP promotion so that it addresses the specific priorities and concerns of their workforce. Indeed, feedback from EAPA members shows that those employers who engage in regular EAP promotional activity, particularly online through webinars, email promotions and apps, can see a significant uplift in usage.

The more effort an organisation puts into promoting its EAP to drive engagement and utilisation, the better its data will be and ultimately its ROI.

The EAP Calculator is available for use at the EAPA UK web site:

Neil Mountford

Neil Mountford, Chair, Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) With 15 years' experience in the EAP industry Neil has worked in a variety of leadership roles spanning both the commercial and operational sides of the business. He is currently Head of Network for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean at Optum International and Chair of EAPA UK.

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