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Defining nomenclature for meaningful benchmarking.

How many of our pioneers in the EA field would have believed that the term "employee assistance" would still need to be defined four or five decades later, at the turn of the 21st century? And how many would have anticipated that some of the most common terms in the industry would be prone to confusion 30 and 40 years after their adoption by our profession and introduction into the business, labor, regulatory and healthcare communities?

One need look no further than the regulatory developments of the past two or three years to understand the ongoing necessity of clearly defining who we are and what we do as a profession and a field and, just as importantly, identifying what constitutes the execution of "best practices" within our profession as captured through benchmarking across the entire spectrum of EA delivery systems. In other words, any benchmarking of value to the profession must not be limited to a mere look at the extent of services delivered but must encompass an examination of the operations, procedures, protocols and professional standards adhered to within the EA industry.


In the early days of our field, our profession made basic and clear distinctions between "internal" and "external" programs, "self and "supervisory" referrals, "information" and "consultation" services, and myriad other terms. Over time our terminology became more defined, eventually resulting in EAPA developing and publishing in 1994 its Glossary of EAP Terminology, providing distinct definitions of terms and their appropriate use as part of the EA nomenclature.

As our interface with other professional disciplines in the business, occupational health, managed care, risk management, work/life, organizational development, and behavioral and general healthcare arenas has evolved on a global level, so has the challenge of defining our terms and finding meaningful, consistent, and agreed-upon parameters for our nomenclature. This became a particularly acute issue in the United States, as the federal government wrestled with the enactment and implementation of two critical pieces of healthcare legislation--the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and, more recently, health savings account (HSA) legislation. In both situations, the ultimate definition of an EAP was at the heart of the government's decision on the impact that each regulation would have on EAPs, on their host organizations, and ultimately on the EA field and the business community in general. Similarly, in each situation, the government's deliberations and decision-making process were complicated by the lack of uniformity in practices across our profession.

As our field and EAPA prepared its input and response on these issues, several realities and questions became evident. For instance, did the traditional assessment-and-referral model of an EAP sufficiently define employee assistance as a practice in today's world? Is the core technology of EA practice a continuing viable framework for distinguishing services that are clearly employee assistance from service elements that may be part of an EAP but which, when practiced in the absence of the core technology, are clearly not employee assistance in and of themselves? It seemed to boil down to a central question: Is what we do by definition an employee assistance program or service if, in fact, any of the seven elements of the EAP Core Technology are missing?


The continuing development and growth of our profession, the ongoing evolution and enhancement of our field, and the increasing complexity and challenge of matching EA services to the rapidly changing needs and interests of the international business and labor communities necessitate that we periodically take stock of our profession to ensure a clear definition of "employee assistance" and our corresponding nomenclature. A defined nomenclature is essential for any meaningful benchmarking across our profession and industry. Thus, the time seems right for our profession to revisit our nomenclature and work across the varied interests and parties in our field to identify and define the terms of vital importance to employee assistance as a profession, service, and definitive solution for enhancing the work environment and performance of employees at all levels in an organization.

In that vein, we would love to hear from you. What is your opinion of our profession's need to define our terminology and to reach agreement on a consistent nomenclature as a critical element in establishing a framework for meaningful benchmarking across our industry? Is a more clearly defined EA nomenclature a value-added proposition for marketing, operating, and/or measuring the effectiveness of your EA services? Is it time for EAPA and other interested EA professional groups to identify and reach consensus on a lexicon for our field? Contact us at bern.beidel@mail. or kbrennan@4continuum. com and let us know your thoughts.

Bern Beidel and Kris Brennan are co-chairs of the Standards Subcommittee of the EAPA Professional Practices Committee,
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Title Annotation:employees-health insurance
Author:Brennan, Kristine N.
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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