Renewing Employee Assistance Programs: The Terrorist Attacks on America's Workplaces Provided EAPs an Opportunity to Prove Their Value and Renewed Employers' Interest in Using Them to Address Changing Needs and New Challenges

Article excerpt

Almost everyone I speak to can tell you where they were and what they were doing when the airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. They can tell you how that day changed their lives, for better and for worse.

The same is true in business--we can mark how the events of September 11 affected corporate policies and changed the fundamental way that we do our work. Some things, however, have not changed. Today, as before September 11, employers are learning that employee assistance programs are well suited to handle a variety of situations--from a worker with body odor to multiple terrorist attacks on office buildings.

THE EVOLUTION OF EAPS

EAPs were established in the mid-1940s to address substance abuse issues, a focus that remained constant for the first 30 years. By the mid-1970s, however, the mission of EAPs was expanding to encompass a whole range of challenges facing employers and employees. Difficulties such as marital concerns, family issues, and prescription/non-prescription drug abuse all began to fall under the expanding purview of EAPs. In recent years, EAPs have continued to evolve, promoting wellness, productivity, and work/life balance services to meet the challenges of the workforce.

Prior to September 11, however, companies were starting to cancel their EAP services or were considering this option. Faced with the rising costs of employee health care, many business leaders viewed eliminating EAPs as a simple cut in spending that would have minimal impact. More and more EAP providers were asked to justify the investment in them and show companies exactly why they should continue spending money on these programs.

At CIGNA Behavioral Health (CBH), we began creating a formal return on investment (ROI) calculator and working with a number of field experts and academic institutions to create an ROI model. Three months from completion, the ROI of an EAP became immediately apparent with the events of September 11. In just three days we fielded a record-breaking number of requests for critical incident responses, and the requests continued to pour in for several months afterward.

We eventually completed work on our ROI calculator in 2002, but by that time, employers had stopped asking about the value of their EAP Since September 11, in fact, our volume of critical incident requests has never dipped back down to its previous level. Employers quickly learned to use their EAP for critical incident responses on a more regular basis. Today, CBH responds to more than 2,000 critical incidents annually, including layoffs, employee deaths, violence in the workplace, industrial accidents, bank robberies, and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

Since September 11, we have also seen an increase in management consultations and referrals. These are tools that often were under-utilized by supervisors and managers before September 11. The events of that day, however, gave managers a renewed understanding of the benefits an EAP offers, and they began using these tools to help manage difficult workplace issues.

In 2004 and 2005, after the short-term effects of September 11 began to wear off, we saw EAP utilization drop once again. We launched an intensive communications campaign to promote EAP services, and soon after the volume of usage rose. This served to remind us that ongoing communications to promote EAP services to companies, their managers and supervisors, and their employees is a must.

FACING UNCERTAINTY

The events of September 11 renewed interest in, and shifted the level of priority assigned to, personal safety, security, and health issues, which previously were taken for granted. Although some of the uncertainty spawned by that day has worn off, workers in both the private and public sectors are experiencing markedly increased uncertainty because of financial constraints, politics, and resource and productivity pressures. …