Know your Benefits: Five Key Differences Between an EAP and a Resource Navigator

Posted on June 4, 2019

The WorkLab Innovations Sustainable Workforce Model introduces a new role to support the needs of frontline workers: Resource Navigator. Helping employees connect to solutions and community resources to solve the challenges that impact their financial stability, the Resource Navigator is a critical part of the employee support system.

This concept of a resource to support the needs of employees outside of the scope of their employment has similarities to the Employee Assistance Program (or EAP) that emerged as a common benefit in the 1970s. A little history of the EAP:

When it originated, employers sought to do two things. First, they wanted to provide a systematic solution to reduce alcohol abuse by workers, a problem that had existed in the workplace since colonial times. Second, employers competing for top talent wanted to provide a more robust benefits package, going beyond healthcare and paid time off. Forward-thinking employers saw EAPs as a way of providing support for challenges that fell outside the scope of HR. Adoption of EAPs rose from just a handful in the late 1960s to 59% of Fortune 500 employers by 1979.1 Today 97% of companies with more than 5,000 workers and 74% of all businesses in the US offer EAPs. EAPs vary from phone-based counseling programs to legal consultations to substance abuse programs and beyond.

While the Sustainable Workforce Model and the EAP model share similar goals, their approaches are very different. As effective as EAPs can be in solving some challenges of employees, there are areas where they fall short and fail to address serious issues. These gaps have led to the rise of a new model of frontline employee assistance: the Sustainable Workforce Model, which defines the role of the Resource Navigator. So what makes this new model different?

Key differences between an EAP and a Resource Navigator


Resource Navigators meet employees where they're at. They're an onsite, face-to-face resource available to employees during working hours. They may set up office hours when employees can drop in. If an employee is concerned about privacy, they can schedule a meeting offsite. One of the challenges with EAPs is that access is usually only offered by calling a resource hotline, rather than meeting in person.

Timely Access

EAP resources often require the scheduling of future appointments in order to connect with solutions. Resource Navigators are available to help employees on their schedule. They can offer pre-set office hours or meet outside of business hours. Employees are connecting with a person, not a hotline, and they can call, text, or email—whatever works best for them. Perhaps most important, there is never a limit on the number of times they can ask for help. Most EAPs only provide a specfic number of sessions, but Resource Navigators will work with the employee until the problem is solved.

Local Expertise

Because EAPs are a remote, phone-based service, they are not necessarily familiar with the community where their clients live. They often provide resources to a large portfolio of clients, working on a national or global level. Resource Navigators work directly within their employer partners' local community. A key part of their service is building strong relationships with the resources that serve that community, such as food banks, legal aid, and... They know which counselors can offer sliding fees, where their clients can get discounts on car repairs, and the income limits for government subsidies. They have specialized expertise in the issues, resources, and solutions that are available at the local level.

Financial Support

For frontline workers with a modest income, the underlying problem behind most challenges is financial. Some EAPs may advise on financial resources, but they don't provide financial resources such as short-term loans or grants. Resource Navigators work to address every aspect of their clients' financial situation, from helping them create a budget to planning for major purchases to finding access to emergency funds if they're struggling with utility bills. Navigators have extensive connections to local resources including financial training, loan programs, advocacy, negotiation with creditors, and more. The Navigator helps employees gain direct access to solutions that address their immediate financial challenges and works with them long-term to build their financial stability for the future.

Individualized Solutions

Resource Navigators are able to create thoughtful, tactical individualized solutions for the challenges that frontline workers face. They meet one-on-one, usually face-to-face, to get the full picture of the employee's situation. They integrate the benefits offered by employers, community support resources, government programs, and other creative solutions. They work with local vendors such as childcare services, auto repair shops, and other providers to negotiate tailored solutions for each individual employee. They partner with the employee to find a solution that works for them and empower them both to take action on the challenge they're currently facing and to feel better prepared to tackle future challenges. Once the Navigator and the employee have addressed the immediate concerns, they often continue to work together to build further stability for the employee or to help them set and work toward long-term goals.


Resource Navigators are at the heart of the Sustainable Workforce Model—an innovative response to the challenges frontline workers face and to the concern of employers who want to engage and retain their lower-wage employees, improve job quality, and support their workforce. Navigators provide tailored solutions through their connections to community resources, as well as their knowledge of organizational benefits, to create an efficient, customized intervention to support each individual’s needs. Navigators may refer an employee to an EAP to provide the elements of the solution that are most effectively delivered through that channel, but the Navigator has access to resources and support solutions that go far beyond what an EAP can provide.

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Topics: sustainable workforce model, resource navigator, innovative workplace benefits, workforce support,


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