By Mary Rowland
N.Y. Times News Service
When a partner at Hewitt Associates, a benefits consulting
firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill., died last month at the age of
37, the firm's management turned to Michael Houle, regional
director of Perspectives Ltd., an employee assistance program, to
help employees deal with their grief.
Houle held counseling sessions with employees, in groups. "You
let them talk about what they thought and help them go through a
grieving process so that they can move past it," said Houle.
In these days of increasing costs, and shrinking payoffs, from
traditional corporate benefits packages, there is another source
to tap: the employee assistance programs, or EAP.
The progams are offering a broad range of new services,
including everything from workplace trauma to advice on care for
preschool children and elderly parents and support groups on
dealing with infection with HIV.
The programs were set up in the 1940s chiefly to deal with
alcoholic employees, who were simply ordered to get help. The
programs developed something of a negative image.
"Initially EAPs were looked at as tools of management," said
Barbara D. Levine, a healthre consultant with Hewitt in Rowayton,
Conn. "Employees mistrusted them." And there was a stigma
attached to going to the employee assistance program, too.
"People knew you weren't performing well," she said.
Employers still use the program to keep employees productive.
But today both employers and employee assistance programs are
more aware of the subtleties that affect performance, and of
relatively lowst ways to help.
"EAPs are still designed to make employees happier and more
productive so they can be at work," said Patricia A. Wiley,
managing consultant in the New York office of Foster Higgins.
"But they provide many more services."
The effect has not been lost on employers _ 79 percent of the
1,006 firms surveyed by Hewitt this year offer an employee
assistance program, up from just 47 percent in 1986. And you
might be surprised at the help you have available at no charge.
Houle says the problems employees bring to him "can be
anything from: `It seems to be raining a lot and I don't feel
happy about it,' to `Our daughter just died and we can't cope.'
Dr. John F. Bunker, a consultant at Wyatt Co., benefits
consultants based in Washington, noted that some employee
assistance programs "have on their staff an attorney and
dedicated work and family units that can help with child care and
elder care issues and even financial planners."
These services are typically provided by an outside vendor
such as Houle's firm that contracts with the employer to counsel
employees. However, some employers set up an inuse employee
assistance program, hiring counselors to work at the company. …