The Benefits of Having the EFAP Benefit


By Robert Bogress and Patrick Burkart

Feeling bothered by family issues? Struggling with mental health issues or addictions? Need help setting up a will or with financial planning?

These are examples of common situations that can be addressed through the services of an Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP) – a group employee benefit that is designed to be a voluntary, short term and completely confidential (within the limits of the law) employee support program.

Whether it is an everyday problem, or something that is deeply impacting your personal well-being or performance at work, there is a wide range of services that can help which are covered through the EFAP benefit. Support like marriage counseling, parenting, financial counseling and mental health issues such as stress management, depression, grief, and alcohol and drug dependency. Depending on the EFAP provider, most will include the following options:

  • 24/7 telephonic counseling session with master’s level counselors through a toll-free line
  • In-person counseling during the day, evening and on weekends
  • E-counseling
  • Online health and wellness tools
  • Management consultations
  • Referrals to a network of community resources

Who Does the EFAP Benefit Actually Benefit?
While most people perceive the EFAP as a counseling outlet to help employees address emotional problems and seek practical solutions to personal and professional issues, these services are also available to the employees’ immediate family members who permanently reside in their household. Confidentiality is upheld regardless of who is calling and for what issue they are calling about.

Although the benefit is called “Employee and Family Assistance Plan”, there are a number of advantages for employers to have an EFAP in the workplace. Here’s a look at some of these advantages:

  1. Confirms compassion and care for employees.EFAP, more than any other benefit, recognizes the human element of organizations.  Employers that offer an EFAP ensure that their employees have the opportunity to engage the services of a professional counselor in a time of need without having to absorb the high cost of a session or having to locate a counselor on their own.
  2. Helps to minimize employee absenteeism, thus maximizing profit. When employees are experiencing personal and/or work-related difficulties, they likely will not be working productively or efficiently. By talking and working issues out with counselors, employees can resolve their issues, or at least bring them to a manageable level, thus allowing them to focus on their work.  An EFAP in place results in a reduction of health care and disability claims, improved employee engagement and less employee turnover.
  3. Provides support in the event of a critical accident or event that affects the greater employee population. A crisis management team from the EFAP provider can be dispatched to the workplace to help the employees deal with the grief from the event.
  4. Trains managers. Organizations can utilize an EFAP in a variety of situations, such as dealing with HR issues, conflict resolution and crisis management. This type of training can galvanize an organization’s management and help ensure a uniform application of their internal policies.

Frequently Used Services
Regardless of industry or geographical location in Canada, couples issues are the most common presenting problem, followed by family issues. Although 45 per cent of Canadians mention their job as their greatest cause of stress (Ipsos-Reid, 2000), mental health issues, which include stress, anxiety and depression, ranks only third as a presenting problem.

When it comes to work-life services that do not require counseling, legal consultations rank as the most frequently used service. The legal consultations are often about how to set up a will or to seek legal advice on a particular incident. Financial and nutritional guidance are other work-life services that are also available but not as widely used.

Are the EFAP Services Enough?
The EFAP is meant to be a short term program and the sufficiency of the EFAP services will depend on the individual and the situation. For those who are using EFAP as an online resource hub, such as finding a financial planner or locating available senior centres in your neighbourhood, the services are probably sufficient. However, for those members who require long term or specialized counseling, they are referred to an affordable community resource by the EFAP counselor. Payments for resources accessed outside the EFAP will be the responsibility of the individual who use the referred services.

In some cases, the average length of time it takes someone on a mental health leave to return to full-time work is 40 days, but for many it can take years (Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addictions and Mental Health, 2004). The EFAP may help reduce this time if the problem were identified and treated earlier.

However, it is not enough for employers to just offer an EFAP, if employees are not aware of it, let alone using it. In fact, the EFAP benchmark utilization rate is between 7-10 per cent. There must be effective communication to employees around the availability of the program and encouragement to use it. Organizations that make a practice of communicating the availability of an EFAP regularly see much better results than those that don’t. These results include an increase in employee work productivity and a decrease in overall employer expenses.

At the end of the day, employees are an organization’s most important resource. A benefits plan that is put in place by the employer is intended to protect the employees and their families from the potential of economic hardships caused by critical illness, disability or loss of life. For all these hardships, plus the varied array of everyday problems, the EFAP benefit, in particular, can help the employees cope better by having the professional support services available to them. Having the EFAP is certainly a way for the employer to show their support to the employees during a time of need.

Robert Bogress and Patrick Burkart are both Principals at TRG Group Benefits & Pensions Inc.

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