EAPS: get with the programme

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Despite a long track record in the US, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) have only become part of UK employers' welfare-at-work armoury in the past two decades. In the US, the modern EAP's roots lie in the 1940s when, supported by Alcoholics Anonymous, American employers including DuPont and Eastman Kodak set up the first workplace alcohol counselling services.

By the 1970s, these early employee counselling services had evolved into a more contemporary model, offering the broad range of confidential professional counselling and advice services that make up today's EAPs.

EAPs arrived in the UK during the 1980s - initially imported by UK subsidiaries of US firms - and have since steadily gained ground. According to a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), six out of 10 employers say they contract EAPs to help manage long-term sickness absence.

Since the CIPD's 2006 survey, the number of employers using EAPs has almost doubled and, in 2007, employers ranked EAPs among the top three interventions for long-term absence management, behind only occupational health services and flexible working.

In 2005, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) (www.eapa.org.uk) estimated that more than 1000 UK organisations provided employees with assistance programmes, meaning that around 2.26 million employees - or 10% of the UK workforce - had access to EAPs. With an additional 1.7 million employees with access to telephone-only counselling helplines, the EAPA estimated the value of the UK EAP market at around £25 million a year.

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