Integration Insights - Journal of Employee Assistance Vol. 48 no. 1 - 1st Quarter 2018
EAPs and the HERO Best Practices Scorecard

By Mark Attridge, PhD


This column reviews an assessment tool that is being used by leading employers to benchmark strategic initiatives in order to promote organizational health and employee well-being. EAPs should take advantage of this free tool to strengthen their role as behavioral health and risk management consultants.

Healthy Companies Make More Money 
A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (see Grossmeier and colleagues, 2016) provides real-world evidence supporting the connection between achieving strong financial returns for a company (i.e., growth in stock prices that outperform the S&P 500 Index) and having wellness programs, policies and a work culture that support employee health and well-being.

This study examined large employers who had scored high on the HERO best practices assessment. Two other studies recently published in the same journal also have found better than average company stock performance over time among employers with award-winning wellness programs. Being a healthy company appears to be correlated with a healthy bottom line. 

But how do you know if a company is doing what it should to be healthy? One way to answer this question is to compare the firm against other high-performing companies and industry best practices.  

The HERO Scorecard
The Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) is a non-profit organization based in Minnesota dedicated to identifying and sharing evidence-based best practices in workplace health and well-being. It has over 100 members who represent a mix of employers, wellness providers, and non-profit organizations. Several national EAP providers are members of HERO, including Aetna, Humana, and Optum Health.  

The HERO Health and Well-Being Best Practices Scorecard in collaboration with Mercer© (HERO Scorecard) was designed to help employers, health providers, and other stakeholders to identify and learn about workplace health and well-being best practices. Now in its fourth edition, it assesses whether a given company provides foundational components that support exemplary health and well-being programs. 

It uses a self-report survey format that asks 60 detailed questions in six dimensions. These sections include: Organizational Culture and Support, Programs, Program Integration, Participation Strategies, and Measurement and Evaluation. There are also other sections (which are not scored) that ask about the company and employee demographics, program costs, and outcomes. 

The HERO Scorecard is a web-based tool available to the public at no cost via the HERO website (hero-health.org). Unlike surveys of employee engagement or employee health risks that need to be done by large samples of employees at a given company, the Scorecard is completed only once for a company.  
In a recent consulting project I did with a 16-member panel of experts in the worksite wellness industry, the HERO Scorecard was rated highest compared to other wellness program assessment resources from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA).

Scorecard Benchmarking Data 
After submitting the responses online, a return email contains a free report that includes an overall score and a score for each of the six sections compared to benchmark average scores. Recent data reveals that the average employer total score is at 45% of the maximum possible 200 points, while scores on the six sub-sections range from 31% to 50% of the possible points.
These scores indicate there is room for improvement among most employers in how they can create a great place to work and improve employee well-being. EAPs can help employers in reaching this goal.  

International Version of the Scorecard
Since its introduction in 2006, over 2,000 companies in the United States have completed the HERO Scorecard.  Based on this success, HERO also released an international version of the Scorecard in 2015. Most of the 150+ HERO International Scorecard users are from Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and multi-national companies based in the US. However, other international users include the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, China, Singapore, Qatar, and India. As a result, EAPs active in countries outside of the United States can also use the HERO Scorecard with their customers. 

HERO Scorecard and EAPs
When taking the Scorecard, EAP is listed as one of the 10 types of program “resources to support individuals in managing their overall health and well-being.” Also on the list are work-life services commonly provided in conjunction with EAP services (childcare/eldercare; financial/legal). 
Recent data shows that 72% of small companies (less than 500 employees) taking the Scorecard had an EAP. This is more than twice the national rate for having an EAP among similarly-sized employers in the United States (based on other survey data).

In addition, 95% of the larger companies who took the Scorecard had an EAP. Clearly, employers who are serious about creating a healthy work culture and supporting employee well-being are including the services of an EAP as part of their organizational strategy. 
   
Moreover, it’s worth noting how two HERO member companies collaborate with their EAP.  The award-wining small employer Lincoln Industries in Nebraska has developed an integrated program that combines the EAP with wellness. Also, American Express recently partnered with their EAP from Beacon Health Options to create the Healthy Minds anti-stigma campaign. 

Integration Opportunities for EAPs Within a Company 
Many past users have found it beneficial to get ready to complete the Scorecard by bringing together the stakeholders from different departments within their organizations to discuss how best to respond to the questions. This can enhance the level of collaboration between the EAP and the stakeholders and can identify new opportunities for integration across programs. See my action plan suggestions below:  

1. Encourage your EAP customer(s) to take the Scorecard each year. (Why not? It’s free.)
2. Benchmark the score of your EAP customer as compared to similar employers.
3. Assist your EAP customer to develop an action plan after completing the Scorecard.
4. Use the process for the EAP to become further integrated into the organization.
5. Repeat the process annually to examine year-by-year improvements.

Opportunities for EAP Vendors to Compare Wellness Across Companies
As featured in one of my past columns in JEA (Q1 2016), over 75% of EAP vendors now also sell wellness-related services.  I see an opportunity for EAP vendors to begin offering a “wellness” checkup (using the HERO Scorecard) to their employer customers and use the range of scores obtained to then recognize customers with the highest scores.  This benchmarking and recognition approach is already being implemented by the Capital BlueCross health plan in Pennsylvania and by Aetna health plan (as a pilot program in four states), which both offer annual workplace wellness awards to certain employers based on HERO Scorecard results. Like these innovative health plans, EAPs can also offer strategic consulting to employers who participate in wellness benchmarking.

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 has delivered keynote presentations at EAPA World Conferences in 2013 and 2016 and is past Chair of the EAPA Research Committee. He can be reached at: mark@attridgeconsulting.com

Jessica Grossmeier, PhD, MPH, Vice President of Research at HERO, contributed to this article.  She can be reached at: jessica.grossmeier@hero-health.org.