Collaborating EAP and Work-Life Services
By Mark Attridge, PhD, MA
Most employee assistance programs (EAPs) now offer a wide range of workplace-based behavioral health programs and benefits that extend beyond the traditional focus of EAP. This column addresses the integration of EAPs with other workplace services. The specific topic this time looks at the opportunity for greater collaboration between EAP and Work-Life.
Depending on which demographics you read, between 20% and 50% of employees in America care for a child, an aging family member or both. Work-Life services focus on supporting the routine, but sometimes stressful, family life experiences, such as finding daycare for children or locating appropriate homecare for aging parents.
Most Work-Life programs offer assessment and referral to quality childcare and eldercare providers, caregiver support groups, family financial and legal education, resources for supporting diverse and non-traditional families, and encouraging corporate and community involvement.
Many Work-Life programs also advise companies on family-friendly human resource (HR) policies and benefits. The Obama Administration’s White House Summit on Working Families held in June 2014 emphasized how important these issues are to families, and to having a productive workforce.
EAP as a Provider of Work-Life
Work-Life programs are the most common type of business partner for EAPs. The National Behavioral Consortium study of 82 external EAP vendors (mostly in the U.S. and Canada) found that 74% of EAPs provided work-life services in addition to EAP services.
In addition a 2011 survey by Chestnut Global Partners of external vendors in 38 different countries found that 52% of these vendors provided both EAP and Work-Life services. These recent studies document the significant overlap in the business delivery of these two fields both in established and emerging markets.
Similarities between EAP and Work-Life
Although each field has its own unique features, EAP and Work-Life programs have many similarities, including:
* A dual role of supporting both the individual employees and family while also supporting the organization;
* A work focus that recognizes that work life and personal life influence each other;
* Key parts of the program are often managed internally and yet much of their services are provided by a network of external specialized contractors;
* The program reports to HR or Benefits; and
* A field-specific certification is available for individual professionals.
With the overlap of mental health and substance abuse disorders into work-life issues, it makes sense that EAPs and Work-Life programs function collaboratively to help employees address personal issues. Cross referral between programs is one beneficial outcome of the integration of services.
For example, as described in Jacobson and Attridge (2010), consider the employee referred to the EAP after failing a random drug test at the worksite. She is a single mother who has been hiding a substance abuse problem for several years. The EAP can help her find an appropriate treatment program, but what about who will care for her young child while she is in treatment, and how will she manage financially on reduced income if she goes on short-term disability?
Thus, the EA counselor also needs to find resources for childcare, workplace leave policy, and family financial concerns. Collaboration with another professional from the Work-Life program could make this response more effective.
Employer Case Examples of EAP and Work-Life
Leading companies and government organizations have developed various forms of an integrated EAP and Work-Life program. Here are two examples.
* Ernst & Young – The global accounting firm was a pioneer in developing an integrated model featuring different national EAP and Work-Life vendors. With collaboration between the vendors essential to the initiative, the company used a multi-year period to define goals, select motivated vendors, and then integrate the operations. The result was a single service offering with shared telephonic and online access points and one common brand (EY/Assist).
The effort yielded an increase in use of the new combined program compared to when the two programs were provided separately with most of the gain coming from new users of the EAP. Dr. Sandra Turner continues to lead the program and has seen it evolve over the past decade into offering a wide array of partner programs and peer-based services, such as employee support groups for family issues (i.e., caregivers of a parent with Alzheimer’s disease).
* Federal Occupational Health – FOH, which supports more than 360 government agencies, illustrates the successful integration of EAP and Work-Life services in the public sector. Jeffrey Mintzer, internal manager at FOH, oversees both the EAP and Work-Life programs.
Mintzer’s duties include supporting linkages of these programs to many FOH programs, including organizational development and leadership, psychological testing and evaluation, comprehensive occupational health services, wellness and fitness centers, health promotion and education, and environmental health and safety. The EAP and Work-Life programs at FOH work together as part of a holistic approach to promoting employee health and wellness.
Resources on Work-Life
Several organizations provide resources and employer case study examples of effective work-life programs and corporate responses to work-family issues. Please see: WorkatWork Alliance for Work-Life Progress; Work and Families Institute; and The Center for Work and Family (Boston College).
CALL FOR CASE STUDIES: In future articles I would like to briefly profile EAPs or vendors that are doing a good job of partnering with the client organization and other programs in innovative ways. Contact me with your suggestions for a case study.
NOTE: Research study references are available upon request.
Dr. Mark Attridge is an independent research scholar as President of Attridge Consulting, Inc., based in Minneapolis. He has created over 200 papers and conference presentations on various topics in workplace mental health, EAP, psychology and communication. He delivered a keynote presentation on ROI and the business value of EAP at the 2013 EAPA World Conference and is past Chair of the EAPA Research Committee. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.