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Maintaining our heart.

When I joined the employee assistance field in the 1970s, with a graduate degree and a background as a therapist, I was in a distinct minority. At that time, most EA professionals had backgrounds of personal recovery from alcoholism or addiction, not particular educational credentials. Those early practitioners designed programs that thrived because they were addressing a significant workplace need--to reduce the absenteeism, productivity costs, and accident risks associated with employees with substance problems. The growth of our profession coincided with growing employer attention to the business costs of substance abuse.

As the years passed, the EA profession evolved to meet the changing needs of the workplace and the changing focus of attention of organizational leaders and decision makers. The workplace became more sophisticated in its human resources policies and, at the same time, more demanding of its people, asking employees to work longer hours at a faster pace. In response, EAPs became more sophisticated in the problem resolution services they offered and the scope of concerns they covered. The profession continued to grow.

With the advent of managed behavioral healthcare, EAPs evolved again, moving toward an arena that was capturing more and more attention from organizational leaders--the quest to control spiraling healthcare costs. As before, EAP growth escalated. The profession, however, was falling into a trap, with EA professionals beginning to see themselves as part of the healthcare world instead of the work world.

When positioned as part of the world of healthcare, employee assistance loses its ability to stay in the forefront of helping solve workplace concerns. Instead, the profession limits itself to helping address only those concerns that have a healthcare solution. Because employee assistance doesn't involve the "big" healthcare dollars, EAPs inevitably become more marginalized and commoditized.

The "tug-of-war" between identifying employee assistance as essentially a healthcare solution or a workplace solution is critical to our future. EAPs have thrived over the years because they have been willing and able to evolve to meet workplace needs that have the attention of workplace decision makers. They need to continue to do the same today and in the future.

But how do we move into new arenas without losing the strengths we have developed in the past? How do we avoid marginalizing our profession without "selling out" to the latest workplace fad and losing our standards?

The answer to this dilemma has two parts. First, we need to understand the essence of employee assistance--the fundamental nature of our work that remains constant across time and cultures. Armed with that knowledge, we can draw from the essence to create value in ways that are consistent with the needs of each particular workplace.

As I've written previously, I believe the essence of employee assistance is this: the application of knowledge about behavior and behavioral health to make accurate assessments, followed by appropriate action to improve the productivity and healthy functioning of the workplace. Focusing on the essence of EA work to develop innovative solutions to real workplace needs is half the answer.

Maintaining our core is the other half. In recent years, many of us have confused the EAP Core Technology with the definition of an EAR When the EAP Core Technology is seen as defining the EA field, it limits our profession to a set of solutions that have been around long enough to become commoditized. The EAP Core Technology is more properly seen as the heart, but not the boundary, of our work.

The EA profession will remain viable to the extent we maintain our heart--our core strength--while at the same time drawing on the essence of EA work to meet workplace needs in ways that employers value and will pay for. I'm interested in what your EAP is doing along these lines. When you get a chance, please let me know. Thanks.

John Maynard is chief executive officer of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. Contact him by e-mail at
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Title Annotation:The View from Here; employee assistance programs
Author:Maynard, John
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:EAPs in the world of work: employers increasingly view workers as an asset to be enhanced rather than a cost to be controlled. Understanding this...
Next Article:Finding the best practice in the "tug-of-war".

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