Comprehensive Wellness Programming and EAPs: Employee Assistance Professionals Can Help Wellness Programs by Identifying Employee Needs, Getting Top-Level Buy-In, and Helping Employees and Supervisors See a Link between the Programs and Their Health and Work

Article excerpt

Industries rely on healthy workers to stay competitive, and a comprehensive health and wellness program has emerged as a necessity in business strategy planning. But pulling together all of the components that comprise a successful wellness program can be a challenge. The first step is to let go of past notions regarding wellness and understand that workplace health has evolved from crisis intervention to personal assistance and prevention to health promotion and that it now also needs to address environmental and organizational issues that may add to employees' stress.

Originally, workplace health concentrated on physical health and safety issues such as the handling of chemical substances. Employers were required to address these hazards to meet government laws and regulations. However, eliminating these factors alone was not enough to ensure healthy employees. Personal and mental health issues affected workers as well, and employees were expected to resolve them on their own. If they failed, they often lost their jobs.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) initially were formed to help employees who were in danger of losing their jobs because of addiction problems. Gradually they broadened their scope of responsibilities to include mental health, financial, legal, and various "crisis" events. Throughout their evolution, their objective remained the same--to help employees return to their previous level of productivity.

Over time, a more preventative orientation toward workplace health emerged in the form of wellness programs and, eventually, comprehensive wellness programs. A comprehensive wellness program incorporates the World Health Organization's definition of health, which is "the extent to which an individual or group is able to realize aspirations, satisfy needs and to change or cope with their environment." This definition recognizes the employee as a whole person who requires a variety of health supports and environmental adaptations.

In some nations, employers can be held legally accountable for ensuring that the work environment promotes health and not disease. A report from Health Canada (Canada's health ministry) says that workplace stress can be attributed to the employer if the workplace defeats the employee's sense of control over his/her work and health--which in turn reduces motivation to pursue positive health practices--and/or the workplace makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and pursue positive health practices.

Workplace wellness should not be construed as a means of making company leaders solely responsible for their employees' health. Corporate leaders can, however, create a work environment that fosters well-being and target employees' unhealthy lifestyle choices.


Few companies have a truly comprehensive wellness program. Corporate wellness initiatives still tend to be disjointed and operate in isolation; many have no process of benchmarking, measurement, or evaluation. The current evolution of wellness programming is in the direction of a comprehensive plan that is corporate-connected and results-focused.

Benchmarking, developing buy-in, and conducting evaluations are all critical to developing a comprehensive plan, as is ensuring that the 10 fundamental principles and values listed in Sidebar 1 are a part of the corporate environment and are internalized by the leadership group. As a key member of the wellness team, an EA professional will want to help impress these principles and values on those who will be making the key programmatic decisions.

While some of these values are formally addressed in vision and mission statements, they are often disregarded when making difficult business decisions. Not understanding or truly internalizing these values and principles will compromise the success of a wellness program.

When pulling ideas together to form a comprehensive wellness plan, you must evaluate what you currently know about the health and well-being of your employees. …