EAP Integration with Worksite Wellness Programs

By Attridge, Mark | The Journal of Employee Assistance, January 2016 | Go to article overview

EAP Integration with Worksite Wellness Programs


Attridge, Mark, The Journal of Employee Assistance


This column addresses the integration of EAPs with other workplace services. This particular issue describes trends in workplace wellness services and how EAPs can address the growing interest in adding behavioral health approaches to prevention.

Trends in Workplace Wellness & Prevention

The core practices of wellness programs typically include: (1) strategic planning to prevent disease, decrease health risks, and contain rising health care costs; (2) conducting health screenings of individuals and risk stratification of the entire employee population; (3) providing risk-related health management interventions (exercise, behavior change programs, health coaching, educational materials, nurse advice lines, and referral to disease management specialty programs); and (4) ongoing evaluation and metrics.

A 2015 study by World at Work revealed that 74% of employers planned to increase their spending on employee well-being programs and that the "primary champion" of such programs is shifting from human resources to an organization's CEO or other non-HR senior management. This data indicates that employers are expanding their support--financially and strategically --for employee wellness programs. Another study by Humana of 225 U.S.-based companies with wellness programs showed that 70% considered such programs to be cost-effective. However, many of the same companies struggled with how to successfully drive participation and produce positive outcomes.

Comparing EAP and Wellness

Given these trends, it makes sense for EAPs to try to better align themselves with wellness and offer ways to make wellness more effective. Many EAPs are already in the business of wellness. A National Behavioral Consortium survey of 82 vendors of EAP services found that in 2011, about half (49%) of these EAP vendors also offered wellness as an additional primary service. But there are many variations of what constitutes a preventive health and wellness program. In a 2014 presentation at the National Wellness Conference, Dr. Joel Bennett and I compared and contrasted the roles and skills involved with EAP and wellness programs. These distinctions are summarized in Table 1.

There is a difference in time frame, as most EAP cases are for acute issues and take only a few sessions to successfully resolve or refer to more intensive treatment, whereas most wellness cases last for 3 to 6 months and focus on gradually making lifestyle changes. Both programs share an interest in individual assessments and technological tools for client education and self-change.

Opportunities for EAP to Make Wellness More Effective

Where EAP can help wellness is in avoiding dropout from these programs through enhanced risk screening and co-management and also with the referral of new cases. EAP can advise on how to conduct more comprehensive risk assessments that screen for anxiety, depression and addictions (i.e., SBIRT model). EAP can then co-manage those employees who screen positive for mental health or addiction risks while they are in the wellness program.

Generally speaking, EAP counselors can support participants in wellness programs with other issues involving family, financial, and work stressors that can derail wellness activities. An ongoing cross-referral of relevant cases between wellness programs and the EAP is also an easy way to bolster the ROI for both programs through more effective case-finding tactics. Participating in a better diet and getting more exercise can also make EAP cases more likely to experience clinical improvement.

Examples of EAP and Wellness

Some EAPs have a long history of collaborating with wellness. Since the late 1990s, Optum has provided a combined EAP, work-life, and 24/7 nurse advice program that uses telephonic point of entry and a shared database for case management. …

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