by Eric Berkman

Help Employees Help Themselves: Employee Assistance Programs Wellness Programs can be Useful Tools

May 15, 20022 mins
IT Leadership

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) and wellness programs can be useful tools in helping your workforce stay on track during uncertain and anxious times.

EAPs are typically part of a company’s health insurance plan and administered by the HR department. Their services include short-term individual counseling, written materials on health- or wellness-related topics, and in some cases forums for employees to discuss issues affecting their well-being. Wellness programs, on the other hand, are typically volunteer organizations, sometimes supported financially by the company. Broadly defined, their focus is on health education and promotion, including such activities as educational forums, exercise programs and lectures.

Both EAPs and wellness programs have been important in helping employees cope with the uncertain climate after Sept. 11, says Thomas Guck, psychologist and director of behavioral sciences at the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb.

“The thing that’s important and unique about the 9/11 issue is that it’s ongoing; it’s not a finite thing where you’re dealing with a flood and the problem’s over and done with and people get on with their lives,” says Guck. “EAPs and wellness programs can be helpful by [making participants] aware of how these things are evolving and finding the right balance between helping employees be vigilant about the issues and getting on with their lives.”

Executives play an important role in ensuring that their employees know about these resources, Guck says. “And they can help make sure that no stigma is attached. That can be really important.”

Coping at Cigna

Andrea Anania, executive vice president and CIO of Cigna, a $19 billion insurance company based in Philadelphia, says EAP-style mental health counseling has been critical in helping her employees cope in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cigna has a business division that provides employee assistance programs to its subscribing companies. The services are provided free of charge to Cigna employees, and the company has been making sure the services have been used in the past few months. “We’ve had seminars made available to everyone on the premises, and we’ve had training sessions with managers to help identify people who may be struggling and to encourage them to attend the counseling sessions,” says Anania. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of people drawing on these services.”