Using Evidence-Based Workplace Training: Research on Substance Abuse Prevention Has Led to New Training Programs That Can Help Revitalize EAPs and Lead to a New Focus within the EAP Core Technology
Bennett, Joel B., The Journal of Employee Assistance
Over me past several years, I have listened to many conversations and read several articles discussing the changes and turbulence faced by the employee assistance profession. The issues raised by the speakers and authors often reveal two underlying principles that EA professionals yearn to embrace personally and promote professionally.
First, they want to have a positive influence on individual workers as well as on the overall well-being of work organizations. For example, given the rising level of stress in the workplace, EA professionals want to do more to help employees who labor in hostile, hectic, poorly led, or otherwise unhealthy work environments. This balance of services (individual and organizational, top-down and bottom-up) may be termed integral organizational wellness.
Second, EA professionals want to connect, interface, or establish identity with their client organization(s). They hope to create a sense of what I call reliable intimacy. They want to be more than occasional reporters of utilization rates, conduits for referrals, and (along with their employee clients) passive reactors to the capricious healthcare market and its competitive landscape. EA professionals want to partner with clients and proactively co-create a healthier and more productive workforce; they want to not just meet or get ahead of the curve, but actually shape it.
If, as I believe, integral organizational wellness and reliable intimacy are central to the vitality of the EA field, then EA professionals will be pleased to know that programs drawing on these principles are now available. Research on substance abuse prevention has led to the development of effective classroom training programs in several areas, including stress reduction, work-life balance, and workgroup communication. These programs have been thoroughly researched and are designated "effective" or "model" programs by the National Registry of Effective Programs (NREP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Each of these evidence-based programs meets the critical EAP goals of enhancing the work environment, motivating performance, and reaching out to workers and encouraging them to seek help. They facilitate social health promotion within the work setting, requiring trainers to interact with workers in ways that are sensitive to the work culture. Such interaction creates a healthy pause, slowing the pace of work just long enough to cut through the very problems of time compression and "presenteesim" that prevent employers and employees from considering such programs in the first place.
APPEALING TO DIVERSE INTERESTS
Four workplace programs that draw on substance abuse prevention have been deemed effective by the NREP (see sidebar). Several things about these programs are worth noting. First, to avoid stigma, they effectively situate substance abuse prevention within the broader framework of employee well-being Second, because they deal with substance abuse, they enhance drug-free workplace educational efforts. Third, because they are grounded in research, the programs come with tools for program evaluation. Fourth, they appeal to diverse interests within the EA profession and address topics of relevance to businesses (e.g., communication).
For example, given the growing overlap between employee assistance and work/life balance services, there should be widespread interest among EA professionals in the program titled "Coping with Work and Family Stress." This multi-session classroom program has been shown to reduce drinking and illicit drug use and help workers establish effective coping strategies for stressors at home and work.
Two other programs can help EA professionals align their interests with behavioral health promotion and healthcare initiatives. "Wellness Outreach," which utilizes one-on-one wellness counseling in the workplace, targets cardiovascular health but also addresses the role alcohol abuse plays in cardiovascular risks relevant to a given client (e. …