Workers are trying to use employer-sponsored employee assistance program and wellness services to help them survive the economic downturn, human resources consultants say.

In some cases, laid-off workers are asking EAPs for help with tasks such as finding food pantries, according to Harris, Rothenberg International L.L.C., New York.

In other cases, “people are using EAPs as a suicide hotline,” says Edward Trieber, managing director of Harris Rothenberg.

Call volume at the EAP operations the firm reviewed increased only 10% in 2008, but the volume of financial services-related calls increased 13%, and the intensity of the calls appears to be increasing, Harris Rothenberg reports.

“Work-life” support program calls also are increasing more on financial assistance issues, the firm says.

“People who have lost their jobs or fear losing their jobs are calling for information about and referrals for career consulting, resume preparation, low-cost health insurance and other related needs,” the firm says.

Meanwhile, Buck Consultants, New York, a human resources and benefits consulting arm of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., Dallas, says employers that sent staffers to a recent Buck health and human capital meeting report that they are trying to maintain wellness, EAP and work-life program budgets, in part because they believe employees are turning to the programs for help with handling the recession.

About 45% of the survey participants said their companies are highlighting program services that can help employees cope with the slump, Buck says.

Employers are especially interested in providing financial planning resources and EAP counseling for stress and depression, Buck says.

About 19% of the participants said their employers will increase wellness spending, and 59% are reporting no budget changes but concerns about the future.

The participants with concerns about the future say they expect wellness and EAP cutbacks will be no larger than other corporate cutbacks, Buck says.