Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can be an impactful workplace benefit, but only if employees feel comfortable accessing it in times of need. Unfortunately, mental health stigma is a reality in the workplace, though its impact as a barrier to the use of EAP services has been largely unstudied.
Conducted independently by Workreach Lab and supported in part by Arete, this study sought to fill this gap by investigating worker perceptions of stigma—including both mental health stigma and EAP treatment stigma (stigma related to receiving help from EAP counselling services)—and patterns of EAP use in a large sample of employed Canadians.
The study found that:
- Greater worker perceptions of stigma predicted a reduced likelihood of EAP use in employees when they needed it.
- An important proportion of participants (up to 23%) reported some degree of EAP treatment stigma.
- Perceptions of mental health stigma were associated with and appeared to extend to increased perceptions of EAP treatment stigma.
- Perceptions of mental health stigma explained an important proportion of the gender-based patterns in the likelihood of EAP use—more male workers might choose not to use EAPs in order to avoid stigma.
- Participants familiar with EAPs were less concerned about stigma and were more likely to use one.
In conclusion, the study determined that worker perceptions of stigma can be considered a barrier to the use of EAPs—a phenomenon similar to that observed with other psychological or mental health services. But the news isn’t all bad. The results also indicated that reducing worker perceptions of stigma may increase the use of EAPs and, by proxy, help to improve organizational health overall.
The study suggested education and information as a path forward in reducing both mental health and EAP treatment stigma in the workplace and thereby increasing use of EAPs. Employers can:
- Focus on workplace interventions that reduce stigma about mental health and accessing treatment.
- Regularly share information and host conversations about the varied benefits and uses of EAPs for all employees.
- Access the EAP treatment stigma scale to assess this type of stigma in the workplace.
- Note that male-dominated workplaces may require additional attention regarding stigma if the goal is to address potential gender inequities in EAP use.