This week’s guest blog comes from Neil Mountford, Chair of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. Together with the Work Foundation they have developed a tool that gives employers evidence of the financial benefits of Employee Assistance Programmes as a means of supporting wellbeing, reducing stress and absence.

According to the Government’s Thriving at Work report last year, the cost of poor mental health among employees is costing between £33 and £42 billion. UK employers bear much of the burden of the costs of ill-health in general, and HR need to have a better grasp of which particular interventions help them mitigate against these costs.

Cost effectiveness research

There’s been a trickle of research on the cost effectiveness of some workplace health interventions over the last 30 years. But much of it originates in the US, where employers bear significant healthcare costs and have a direct financial interest in improving workforce health and promoting early intervention; it’s also often carried out by the  providers themselves.

Thriving at Work 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).

Measuring a common approach

Employee Assistance Programmes are the most commonly used workforce health intervention in the UK with close to half of the workforce (a total of almost 14 million) having access. It’s an increase of 300 per cent in just over a decade. The use of Employee Assistance Programmes is at the heart of the mental health question, and central resources for support on the range of issues that unsettle and undermine employees and their performance. But very few providers or their clients are able to collect systematic evaluation data beyond ‘take-up’ or utilisation statistics and satisfaction surveys.

The Employee Assistance Professionals Association has been working with the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to change this picture, to develop a simple tool which can be used by HR professionals to estimate the impact of Employee Assistance Programmes on workplace outcomes.

Employee Assistance Programme providers and employers will be able to demonstrate the value of their Employee Assistance Programmes, using the results to better inform their health and wellbeing strategy and deliver more tailored support. In the early stages of its use, data from more than 100 organisations in the autumn of 2018 suggested a cost of £15.05 per employee with a return in addition to this figure of £7.97 per employee.

How will the dataset evolve?

The more the calculator is used, the richer the dataset becomes. In turn, this data can can used to revise and update the methodology, building the rigour and realism of the figures put forward to senior executives in boardrooms. There’s then a clear basis for investment in more specific mental health initiatives for employees. And over time there will be the detail needed for HR teams to benchmark returns against comparative employers in their sector and region.

Workplace wellbeing questionnaire methodology

Evidence and guidance on workplace wellbeing