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What is an International Employee Assistance Programme?

An International Employee Assistance Programme (otherwise known as a Global Employee Assistance Programme, or Expat Assistance Programme) is a suite of employee support services offered via a single platform. It is designed to help employees in multiple locations around the world deal with work-related problems or personal issues which may have a negative effect on their physical or mental wellbeing, hindering their performance at work.

What is included in an International Employee Assistance Programme?

A Global EAP generally includes most, or all, of the following:

  • Confidential support services, 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year
  • Face-to-face counselling (often a flexible amount you can select depending on budget)
  • Digital tools designed to support health and wellbeing
  • Practical employee support for a range of specific issues, including:

– legal

– financial

– childcare

– elderly care

– work life balance

– relationships

– stress

– anxiety & depression

– life transitions

– emotional support, particularly around grief, trauma & loss.

  • Employer support for critical incidents (sudden traumatic workplace incidents)
  • Multilingual capability
  • Global access
  • Employee engagement statistics, showing employers which tools are being used most (data confidentially gathered)
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How does a Global Employee Assistance Programme work?

An International Employee Assistance Programme can be made available to all employees and expatriates wherever they are in the world. All the large Global EAP providers are supported by a large network of professionals able to offer face-to-face counselling in any language or culture around the world.

In recent years, the sector has made significant investments to ensure that employees and expats can get 24/7 year-round support by phone, email, webchat, or app in their native language.

EAPs usually provide a defined number of counselling referral sessions at no added cost to the employer or employee.  Although most EAPs do not provide long-term counselling, they can assist employees in finding options that are intended to be long-term solutions.

The HR team should also have a good overview of the program and know how to direct employees there, should it be required, and how to access it themselves if a traumatic incident occurs to a population of staff . Expatriate employees leaving on assignment and line managers of expat staff should also be well versed in the offering to ensure it is able to be referred as early as possible when an issue or potential issue is identified.

Where International Employee Assistance Programmes can be less effective is if they are not promoted internally properly and have a low level of employee engagement. It is important to communicate the service and have very clear actions for employees to take to be able to access the support services when required.

It’s important to note that the service maintains privacy for the employee. The employer and HR team has no way of knowing who is using the service, what features they are using, or how regularly.

Why invest in a global EAP?

There are many reasons why a business may choose to implement an International Employee Assistance Programme, we have provided five of the main ones to help you consider if it is would useful for your businesses:

  • A well implemented Global EAP can reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and improve mental health in the workplace.
  • Many businesses wish to implement a global EAP to harmonise multiple local solutions. It’s much better to have a consistent and centralised offering, rather than disjointed products and services managed separately. Also, simplifies communication and promotion of the service to employees.
  • Some companies may have part of their workforce in locations which could be exposed to terrorism, social unrest or natural disaster. A global EAP is on-hand to assist not just employees, but also their HR teams to deal with handling incidents like this.
  • Business with expat employees on assignment – see below question regards expatriate assignments.
  • The cost is often low compared to a lot of other International Employee Benefits. However, it’s known to have a strong Return on Investment (ROI) when it is promoted effectively.

Interesting facts and figures

  • According to EAPA, for every £1.00 spent on an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in the UK, employers see an average return on investment (ROI) of £7.27.
  • Over 70% of employees reported increased productivity after using the EAP in one survey
  • According to a study published in the International Journal of Health and Productivity, workers who used an EAP experienced a 27% decrease in absenteeism.
  • Nearly 80% of depressed EAP participants reported feeling better after completing an Employee Assistance Programme according to another survey.
  • When employees used an EAP, their work engagement increased by 8%, while their personal happiness increased by 22%.

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What are the potential pitfalls of International Employee Assistance Programmes?

  • Low uptake: An International EAP is only going to provide value if your employees are engaging with it. Therefore, its benefits and features must be communicated effectively to staff right from the start. If there is a lack of awareness, the programme is likely to fail.
  • Poorly designed system: Employee Assistance Programmes come in various guises. Different providers and schemes provide differing levels of service. It’s important to select an EAP which best suits your global business needs. (Note: Engage Health Group can help advise on this).
  • Relinquishing responsibility: It’s possible for a company to set-up a scheme and believe their responsibility for an individual’s wellbeing stops there. However, EAPs are not a standalone solution for creating a healthy physical working environment. Instead, they are an important tool which works in unison with a wider healthy workplace culture.
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How much does an International Employee Assistance Programme cost?

As rough guide, the average cost of an EAP is between £5 and £15 per person, according to the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association. However, there are many factors which affect price point, including:

  • Number of employees: different products are designed for different workforce sizes.
  • Location of employees: for example, it is more expensive to provide International EAP services to employees in Scandinavia than India, or Eastern Europe.
  • Inclusions/exclusions: products may offer employees the option of paying for additional services (such as counselling) or employer can provide more extensive coverage
  • Standalone EAP vs insurance add-on: International EAP services are often available as an additional service provided within an international insurance policy, such as International Business Health Insurance. See section below.

Standalone International EAP vs insurance add-on: what’s best?

If you’re a business which already has International Health Insurance (or is seeking to invest in this policy) then a global EAP can often be included as a value added extra. While this is a great additional feature, it can have its drawbacks. This is because many businesses fail to adopt a separate communication and promotion strategy which leads to poor employee engagement compared to when a business purchases a bespoke service. 

A good International Employee Benefits Broker should highlight the value of services offered within the EAP and assist with building a strong communication and promotion strategy to ensure strong staff engagement and business value. 

One downside to accessing your International Employee Assistance Programme via your International Health Insurance scheme, is that you will not be directly provided promotion materials and you will not have access to the annual reporting on utilisation. While you can work on your own promotion materials, the annual reporting does provide useful insights into the degree to which the services is being used and underlying trends that you may want to address.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I set up an International Employee Assistance Programme?

The setup of a Global Employee Assistance Program, or Expatriate Employee Assistance Program is straightforward in itself. The chosen service provider will get everything set up for you quickly, and provide all the necessary documentation and contact information that should be disseminated to the employees. 

A good employee communication plan is important to support rollout, however. As an expert international insurance consultant, Engage Health Group can help support your communication strategy and guide you through the whole set-up process.

Why is early intervention in mental health important?

A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 78% of employees miss work due to mental health concerns, with 34% missing work for two months or more.

Stress Related Absence has a significant impact on productivity and the below chart, recorded over a 10-year period by a major UK Income Protection provider, demonstrates the important role that early intervention plays.

When an episode of stress-related absence receives intervention at week four, the average total length of absence is 24.3 weeks. Whereas when the intervention is received between 21-25 weeks, the average total length of absence is over 55 weeks.

An expat employee will experience additional stress through relocating themselves, and also potentially their family. With the high cost involved in expatriate assignments, there is an even stronger rationale to promote your International Employee Assistance Programme effectively. Early signs of mental health issues can be detected and addressed before they become a serious problem.

 

Read our latest article on expats mental health during the covid pandemic (William Russell Data)

Why do companies with expat employees need an International Employee Assistance Programme, or specialised Expat EAP?

Businesses with an existing expatriate population, or a business looking to implement expat assignments for the first time, should strongly consider establishing an International Employee Assistance Programme (IEAP), or specialised Expat Employee Assistance Programme.

 

The first consideration is the duty of care a business has to an employee they send out on international assignment. For the vast majority of employees, taking on an expat assignment is a big life choice. It effects not only themselves but their friends and loved ones. The move will require the employee to adjust to a new culture, new laws and customs, new colleagues, a new residence, unfamiliar tax rules and countless other things that they will need to adapt to.

 

Clearly, an employer sending a member of staff on assignment has a duty of care to ensure that the employee is supported as far as possible. This can help them settle more quickly, but also protect them against any worst-case scenarios.

 

There are many things for an employer to consider. However, supporting an expat with a confidential support service and assisting with a broad range of issues, both in, and out, of work, should be one of the first things on the list.

 

It’s also worth thinking of the cold, hard business case. Expatriate assignments are a significant investment for any business and expat failure could mean tens, or even hundreds of thousands, in lost expenditure. Two of the main reasons why expat assignments fail include an inability to settle and achieve optimal productivity. Both of these could be prevented with early intervention by some of the support services offered by an International Employee Assistance Programme, or particularly an Expat Employee Assistance Programme. The latter are specifically focused on supporting expat employees settle and thrive in their assignment.

Is just providing a Global or Expat Employee Assistance Programme, enough for your teams and expatriate staff on assignment?

It’s certainly the important first step. But if employers wish to get the most return on their investment and genuinely support their workforce, then promoting the service in the right way and offering it as part of a broader International Employee Benefits strategy is key.

All Global EAP providers will provide supporting literature, such as posters and leaflets, which can be displayed in common areas to spread the word, but employers can go further still. 

Many employers now incorporate the International EAP service as part of their management training to ensure that staff are reminded of its features during performance conversations and other one-to-ones. 

Keep in mind that direct managers are often the first to notice a change in employee behaviour and are usually best placed to guide people to the service. 

Finally, whilst the use of an International Employee Assistance Programme by employees is confidential, many iEAP providers offer ‘meaningful management information’ to the employer, which can assist in understanding which risks are most prominent within their business. I.e. management can see anonymised usage trends and insights.

This is extremely useful as it empowers the employer to deploy resources more appropriately, ensuring that any health and wellbeing budget is being spent in the correct areas.

What issues can a good International Employee Assistance Programme help solve?

Implementing a successful Global Employee Assistance Programme can deliver a range of benefits, including:

  • Improved employee turnover and attrition
  • Lower rates of expat failure
  • Improved rates of absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Better rates of productivity

What is the difference between an International Employee Assistance Programme and a localised domestic EAP?

While many of the actual features are similar, the key difference is the global audience that an International EAP supports.

The International EAP providers often have an international footprint themselves, plus a global network of counselling services enabling face-to-face support to employees anywhere in the world. The centralised call centres they operate can also handle calls in multiple languages equipped with a deep understanding of cultural differences that are an important consideration in addressing personal and work issues.

Aside from these practical considerations, a global EAP will provide technology, documentation and promotional materials in multiple languages.

What is the minimum number of people an International Employee Assistance Programme, or Expat EAP can be purchased for?

There are Global Employee Assistance Programme providers who have no minimum number of employees or expatriates. Do consider, however, that EAP’s have a banded pricing model. If you are planning to roll it out to one or two members, the cost per-head will be higher if the band extends to, say, ten employees. This is because the price is the same for any number of employees within that headcount band.

 

If you are considering purchasing International Health Insurance with a built-in International EAP, then the minimum number of employees is three for most International Medical Insurance providers. 

What impact has a Global Employee Assistance Programme been shown to make?

One study conducted by a leading International Employee Assistance Programme provider, looked at the impact an International EAP can make on lost time and productivity for an employee working eight hours a day, 152 hours per month. They found that:

 

  • Hours of missed work reduced from 7.36 hours without an EAP intervention, to 3.86 hours.
  • Lost productivity time reduced from 62 hours without EAP intervention to 45 hours, saving 2.1 days of productive time.

What return on investment (ROI) has been evidenced for International Employee Assistance Programme counselling?

Global Employee Assistance Programme’s consistently deliver a solid return-on-investment. This is partly due to its relatively low cost and the broad level of support it offers. One specific study by an International EAP provider looked at the impact of early intervention counselling services vs a three-month period of continued distress. It found that for every $1 invested, the employer was able to generate circa $3:37 in value.

5 best practices for successfully implementing a Global Employee Assistance Programme

  • Actively promote and drive engagement of the services available.
  • Reassure employees of the confidentiality of the service.
  • Understand the needs of different target groups, including: expatriates, local national, line managers and HR among others.
  • Secure senior leadership support and appoint internal champions
  • Review, evaluate and adjust when needed 

Is an International Employee Assistance Programme confidential?

Yes, a Global Employee Assistance Programme is completely confidential. Nothing is fed back to the employers that could in any way be traced back to any individual.

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