Magazine article Security Management

An Eye on EAPs

Magazine article Security Management

An Eye on EAPs

Article excerpt


DANIEL C. SMITH, DIRECTOR of the employee assistance program at McDonnell Douglas, sounds like a stockbroker when he describes his division's impact on the entire firm. "Our program is working," he remarks. "For 1988, we realized a return of $5.1 million. It's an indication that we're serving both the workers and the company."

At a time when substance abuse, mental health problems, and other stresses beset the American work force, an effective employee assistance program (EAP) can be a wise investment. Through EAPs, distressed workers may get counseling and referrals before their troubles become insurmountable.

Certainly, the need for EAPs is pressing. In survey after survey, CEOs cite alcohol and drug dependency as a major factor in absenteeism, soaring medical claims, and plummeting productivity. Cocaine use in particular has grown tremendously.

David Britt, author of the The All-American Cocaine Story, estimates that 70 percent of the stimulant's users are jobholders, and 35 percent of those people are in managerial positions. But alcohol remains the nation's most misused substance.

According to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, Inc. an Arlington, VA-based organization representing 6,000 of the nation's EAP professionals, 12 percent of America's 114 million workers are addicted to alcohol, while 7 percent are addicted to drugs like marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and barbiturates. And crossaddiction is not uncommon.

Whether they sit behind the steering wheel or in front of a computer terminal, chemically dependent employees are a threat to themselves and their coworkers. The physical hazards of driving while intoxicated are obvious; less apparent is the danger to corporate morale. One disturbed person can undermine an entire department.

"When others in the workplace see drug abuse, it's detrimental," observes Rodney Lowman, director of Houston's Career Development Laboratory, which evaluates career paths for managers, workers, and companies.

EAPs can help businesses contain the damage. "EAPs have originated as policies in an attempt to improve employee performance," explains David Lewin, professor of business at Columbia University. "Typically, EAPs are financed on a capitated basis, for example, $18 to $20 a person," adds Lowman. "It doesn't take too much to see that with several successfully treated cases, the firm has made up the amount of its investment."

Whatever the rationale, by the late 1980s, nearly 80 percent of the Fortune 500 had introduced EAPs. The approach varies from company to company. Some programs combat alcoholism, while others provide personal and marital counseling. The most all-encompassing plans address every phase of psychological needs and direct workers to appropriate clinics and out-patient and residential facilities.

McDonnell Douglas revised its 14-year-old EAP in 1985 after tallying up its failures. For the first three years after drug-dependent employees entered a program, they missed an average of 88 days each, McDonnell Douglas found. During the same period, workers with mental illness were absent an average of 50 days each.

Three years after diagnosis, 40 percent of the employees treated for drug abuse and 16 percent of those treated for psychiatric conditions were no longer on the company payroll. "Our program wasn't as effective as it could have been," Smith comments. "It was decentralized, and it wasn't available in all the units around the country. To support our people, we realized we had to increase our scope."

A broader program and tighter management made all the difference. McDonnell Douglas expanded its programs to all corporate units regardless of size, with increased attention to drug dependence, psychiatric illness, and family problems. Outside consultants contrasted 11,000 EAP clients to 14,000 of their unenrolled coworkers by studying absentee rates and medical claims. …

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