International survey on the history of Employee Assistance Programs: A fifty-year perspective

March 2017

NCETA is undertaking a comprehensive international review of the history of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). The research is being conducted in partnership with Masi Research Consultants Inc, who are covering the United States and Canada while NCETA is examining developments in other countries. The study involves three components: systematic literature review, key informant interviews and an international survey. The latter component is described here.

Why are we doing this research?

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are increasingly utilised around the world, and in many countries have become accepted as an effective way to improve employee wellbeing and productivity.

The first EAPs were occupational alcohol programs in the United States staffed by volunteers with lived experience of problematic alcohol use. Since that time, EAPs have evolved and changed substantially and today they bear little resemblance to this early model.

The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) defines contemporary EAPs as “workplace programs designed to assist:

  1. Work organisations in addressing productivity issues
  2. ‘Employee clients’ in identifying and resolving personal concerns, including health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress, or other personal issues that may affect job performance” [1].

EAPs have been established in many locations around the world. There is a growing recognition that they need to be tailored to the unique cultural characteristics of the region in which they operate.

While many contemporary EAPs seek to improve employee wellbeing and productivity, there are large variations between and within countries, for example:

  • Agreement about defining ‘wellbeing’ and ‘productivity’ and the level of importance that is placed on each one
  • The component parts that make up an EAP
  • The people responsible for delivering EAPs
  • The methods of delivery.

These differences mean that EAPs offered in different countries, regions or by different companies may have little in common.

There is now considerable evidence about the demonstrated effectiveness of EAPs in various countries and contexts [2-7]. However, to date, relatively few rigorous studies have tracked their historical development and evolution around the world.

To address this potential oversight, the US-based Employee Assistance Research Foundation commissioned NCETA to review the international history of EAPs. A key component of the study is to understand the experiences and knowledge of professionals previously or currently involved in the EAP field.

What are we doing?

An international online survey was administered by NCETA during August to December 2016. NCETA promoted the survey through its networks, the project funder, peak representative organisations of EAP service providers and international organisations. Key informants and organisational contacts were also asked to distribute the survey link through their networks.

The survey contained 45 multiple response and open-ended questions and took approximately 30 minutes to complete. Participants were eligible to complete the survey if they were currently or previously employed in the EAP field. They were asked about:

  • Their experiences of working in the EAP field
  • The characteristics of EAPs and EAP practitioners in their region
  • Key historical developments of EAPs in their region.

 74 respondents across 25 countries completed the survey. Responses were grouped into the following 6 geographical regions:

  1. Africa
  2. Asia
  3. Australia
  4. Europe
  5. North America
  6. South America

What will it mean?

Key drivers in the evolution of differing international EAP models along with standards of service delivery will be identified. Changes in EAP models and service provision (e.g., face-to-face versus online interventions) will also be explored and factors impacting EAPs such as worker qualifications and professional registration will also be examined.

Where to next?

The next stage of this project involves synthesising the results of the online survey and with the findings from the systematic literature review and key informant interviews.

NCETA Research Staff:

Professor Ann Roche
Victoria Kostadinov
Jacqui Cameron
Alice McEntee
Ken Pidd


  1. International Employee Assistance Professionals Association. (2011). Definitions of an employee assistance program (EAP) and EAP core technology. Available from:
  2. HCPJ. Counselling services at work are effective. (2011). Healthcare Counselling & Psychotherapy Journal; 11(4):3.
  3. Panhwar I, Channar Z, Pasha M, Memon F. (2015). Impact of Employee Assistance Program on Employee Satisfaction of Public & Private Organizations of Sindh. Grassroots. 5;49(1):67-78.
  4. Sundram BM, Dahlui M, Chinna K. (2014). "Taking my breath away by keeping stress at bay" - An Employee Assistance Program in the Automotive Assembly Plant. Iranian Journal of Public Health; 43(3):263-72.
  5. Nakao M, Nishikitani M, Shima S, Yano E. (2007). A 2-year cohort study on the impact of an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) on depression and suicidal thoughts in male Japanese workers. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health; 81(2):151-7.
  6. Li P, Sharar DA, Lennox R, Zhuang W. (2015). Evaluating EAP Counseling in the Chinese Workplace: A Study with a Brief Instrument. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health; 30(1-2):66-78.
  7. Shakespeare-Finch J, Scully P. (2005). A Multi-Method Evaluation of an Australian Emergency Service Employee Assistance Program. Employee Assistance Quarterly; 19(4):71-91.