JEA 2nd quarter 2020
Tech Trends

Response to “The ‘Antidote’ For Anti-EAP Trends”

By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP

I completely agree with David Sharar’s perspective that employee assistance (EA) is experiencing an onslaught of disruptive anti-EAP marketing and pressure to use apps and other technologies that have not been vetted as effective in an EAP context. I too have written about this challenge to our field. Since 2008, I have been writing a weekly blog (http://www.iWebU.info) that focuses on “disruptive trends and technologies in the 21st century” impacting EA and mental health. 

In a blog post from 2018, “Web Secret 541: Bypassing EAPs,” I wrote:

The biggest threat to EAPs are mental health apps and platforms that are selling directly to employers. They are less expensive than EAPs, and over promise spectacular results. They also use slick marketing techniques and state of the art tech - which most EAPs lack. And they are usually headed - and started - by technologists - not clinicians. 
…..
What do these companies do better do better than EAPs?
They sound cool, use great marketing and exhibit social media savvy. They trumpet evidence-based interventions up front and central. Promise hi tech anywhere anytime service delivery. They are user friendly and offer “fun” visual tracking of progress - typically through apps. 

What do EAPs do better than these companies?
CBT is the new Kool-Aid and pretty much the only approach used. What is completely missing is the powerful and valuable EAP assessment that delivers customized counseling and/or referrals to the treatment approach and level of care needed by the employee AND an evaluation of the workplace factors and impact relevant to each case. [my emphasis]

EAPs do not do a good job of explaining what is unique about our work and its value to either our client companies or our covered lives. We need to figure out a sleek, sophisticated, and engaging way of promoting ourselves – this is not necessarily a matter of ad dollars but more about creative thinking and learning from the very industries that are threatening us. 

Talkspace is yet another company that directly markets to corporations offering their services as an alternative to EAPs. (see https://business.talkspace.com) When the company first started, they offered “unlimited” texting with a counselor for $49 a week. A 2018 Talkspace 30-second ad shows a young woman sitting on a couch and then a voice says: “I feel incredibly grateful that I stumbled upon Talkspace. I was matched to the perfect therapist. She makes me think, in the best way possible. This has been a life-changing experience.” Lindsay S, Talkspace user.” (see https://youtu.be/jFUJXHlASHo) 
I would venture to say that we could create a similar ad promoting EAP on our smartphones. I am not a marketing maven, but doing the same thing year after year and expecting a different result is a sure sign of the madness in our industry. 

In a 1st Quarter 2019 Journal of Employee Assistance Tech Trends column, “Moving Towards EAP 2.0,” I wrote:

Lyrahealth.com is typical of the mental health platforms that compete directly with EAPs for corporate dollars... 

In the “employers” section of their website https://www.lyrahealth.com/employers they state: 
“Lyra replaces hard-to-navigate EAPs with an innovative approach that engages 10X more employees and helps them become measurably healthier, happier, and more productive. Lyra makes it easy for employers to support and improve workforce behavioral health and emotional well-being.

Lyra replaces your EAP with a new approach to mental health that is intuitive, intelligent, and effective. From anxiety and depression to stress and relationships, we deliver the right care, right away and help members feel better quickly. That’s why 94% of members love Lyra.”

You can’t get more direct than that.

While I also agree with Dave that we need more research that supports what EAPs do, I am concerned that:

1.    Smaller EAPs do not have the in house expertise nor the resources to conduct research. But we do have the Workplace Outcomes Suite as well as PsyberGuide, a nonprofit website dedicated to helping those seeking to make responsible and informed decisions about computer and device-assisted therapies for mental illnesses. (https://psyberguide.org/apps/) 

If you go to their “Product Listing,” you will note that each app is listed along with a PsyberGuide rating that corresponds to the amount of research and support backing the product. In addition, there is an App Quality Score on a scale of 1 to 5. Finally, there is a link to an expert review - if one exists. 
http://www.iwebu.info/2017/08/web-secret-479-psyberguide.html. 
2.    The threat is already here. How do you compete right now with the Lyras of this world?

In a course that Mike Klaybor, PhD, CEAP, and I update and deliver once a year at EAPA’s EAP Conference and EXPO, “Planning and Implementing a 21st Century EAP from Zero to Go”, we recommend the following steps: 

1.    You need to seamlessly incorporate technology into all EAP services. You need to provide anytime anywhere and anyhow access to those services. Enable texting to make appointments, and speak with an EAP counselor via video. All of this should be EASY to use. There are a number of online appointment platforms, and all of us already use Facetime or Skype. Even the smallest EAP company can offer these technological bells and whistles.

2.    Instead of reinventing the wheel, your EAP should form partnerships with apps and other tech startups to offer the latest in treatment modalities and delivery systems. Adding apps to EAP services is easy. In 2018, the JEA published an article that lists the best apps for EAPs. (See Journal of Employee Assistance - Vol. 48 no. 4 - 4th Quarter 2018: “Top 10 Well-Being Apps for 2018”, by Kathleen Greer, http://www.eapassn.org/JEAArch (members only).

3.    EAPs should use the latest in marketing and sales techniques to market themselves to corporations and employees. This should include sophisticated social media campaigns. This does not require a big budget – it’s about working smart. The gig economy makes it easy and inexpensive to hire the expertise to accomplish this – check out a company like Fivver (https://www.fiverr.com) and there are others.

4.    As technology advances and becomes mainstream, your EAP needs to be ahead of the curve, incorporating virtual reality, chatbots with machine learning, and anything else that we can’t even imagine into the services provided by the EAP.

Other suggestions:

First opportunity
In addition, there are opportunities for EAPs to be disruptive to the anti-EAP companies. In a first quarter 2020 article in the Journal of Employee Assistance, former EAPA president Tamara Cagney wrote that DIY genetic testing (such as offered by 23andme) is an opportunity for EAPs. 23andMe does not offer services to help users cope when they discover they have the genetic marker for a potentially fatal disease.
This presents an excellent opportunity for EAPs to provide supportive genetic counseling services. No one else is doing it. This is a first to market scenario. The first step is to add genetic counseling to your roster of services and hire a genetic counselor.

Second opportunity
Another opportunity for EAPs is to help employees and their families, as well as client companies, cope with the profound changes in our society brought on about by advances in technology. As soon as we establish best practices, we are faced with a new evolution: What are we going to do when virtual reality is perfected and our clients check out of life to disappear into worlds that have no reality?
EAPs have the opportunity to develop presentations about how to limit and manage screen time. And EAP counselors can develop the expertise to help clients of all ages manage our devices and social media. 

Once you have developed these services, promote them to your current and prospective client companies and the employees you serve. None of the anti-EAP companies are doing this.

Marina London is the Director of Communications for EAPA and author of iWebU, (http://www.iwebu.info,) a weekly blog for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by social media and Internet technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at m.london@eapassn.org.

Resources

DIY Genetic Testing: Opportunity for EAPs - Tamara Cagney, Journal of Employee Assistance Vol. 50 no. 1 - 1st Quarter 2020 https://issuu.com/eapa/docs/jea_vol50no1_1stqtr2020

“Planning and Implementing a 21st Century EAP from Zero to Go”, 2019 EAP Conference recordings. Presenters: Dr. Mike Klaybor, Marina London LCSW, September 24, 2019. St. Louis, Missouri. https://eapa.sclivelearningcenter.com/MVSite/MVStore.aspx?confID=3283

Tech Trends, “Moving Towards EAP 2.0,” Marina London. Journal of Employee Assistance Vol. 49 no. 1 - 1st Quarter 2019. Pages 6-7. 11. https://issuu.com/eapa/docs/jea_vol49no1stqtr2019

Journal of Employee Assistance – Vol. 48 no. 4 – 4th Quarter 2018: “Top 10 Well-Being Apps for 2018,” by Kathleen Greer, http://www.eapassn.org/JEAArch (members only)

“Web Secret 541: Bypassing EAPs”. iWebU.info blogpost 10/17/18. Marina London http://www.iwebu.info/2018/10/web-secret-541-bypassing-eaps.html?m=1