Denver Promotes Employee Assistance Programs

By Hersh, Harvey | Nation's Cities Weekly, April 13, 1992 | Go to article overview

Denver Promotes Employee Assistance Programs


Hersh, Harvey, Nation's Cities Weekly


In the early 1980's, Denver, Colo. city government officials began to think in a new way. They began to think of the well being of employees as an investment, one worth protecting.

Similar programs had been used in industry. The basic idea was to give employees a confidential, non-threatening place to go for help with personal or job related problems. Denver did not want to set up a shadow social services department, but to give employees information and access to existing help, public and private, as well as counseling in emergency situations. Denver proves this can be done with a very small staff: two professionals and one support staff.

In 1985, the Office of Employee Assistance began providing its "broad brush" program offering 24-hour-a-day information, referral and counseling services to all 12,000 civilian employees and family members as a mayoral initiative. Examples of presenting problems are trouble with a boss, drug and alcohol abuse, financial difficulties and health care questions.

In November of 1991, an ordinance was passed by City Council codifying the key elments of the successful program. The ordinance was sponsored by Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds, an NLC past president, and supported by Mayor Wellington Webb, a new NLC board member. It is believed this is the first such program to be codified in municipal law.

The Denver Office of Employee Assistance is overseen by a board composed to provide maximum support and sanction from three independently elected branches of city government. It is comprised of the mayor's chief of staff, and member of City Council, and the city auditor. In addition, two members of the business community serve on the board.

The most important elements of the program were specifically addressed in the ordinance. The first is confidentiality. No information can be divulged without written consent of the client. The second is anonymity. The program is housed separately from all other city operations.

The results of the OEA have been outstanding.

From its inception, the program has met or exceeded its utilization goal of 10 percent and in each of the past three years 13 percent of the workforce has reached out for help with personal problems. …

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