Employee Assistance Programs: 70 Years of Evolution

By Bill Bowler SPHR
Senior Vice President of Client Services
Employee Services, Inc.

ESI Employee Assistance Group

According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 65% of mid to large employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of their benefits package.  In 1988, the figure was only 43%. So clearly, EAP programs are becoming more popular with both employees and their employers. But why?

To answer this question, we need to look back at the very first EAPs which appeared in the 1940’s. Following WWII, American manufacturing was retooling and cranking up to meet growing consumer demand. Jobs were readily available; however, worker performance expectations were high in order to meet production and quality goals. It became apparent that a significant number of otherwise competent and well trained employees were struggling with personal problems, principally alcoholism, that impeded their performance. While many employers simply terminated these workers, the cost of rehiring and retraining to fill vacated slots became a drag on the bottom line. Progressive companies such as Eaton Industries and General Motors and its unions discovered that by offering assistance to those impaired by alcohol, jobs could be retained and employees’ lives and health could be enhanced.

The 1970s and 1980s ushered in the “broad brush” approach to EAP which recognized that employees faced many challenges in addition to alcoholism. Gradually, EAPs began to offer assistance with financial, legal and family problems. Increases in senior longevity and two-worker families during the 1990s led to EAP eldercare and childcare solutions.
During the last decade, many EAPs have responded to the dramatic rise in healthcare costs by including wellness components. Empirical studies conducted by groups such as the Research Triangle Institute in New Jersey found that the availability of an EAP could significantly reduce both behavioral and medical costs for workers.

In 2012, employers can select from a plethora of EAP plans. However, as with most important purchases, caveat emptor – Let the buyer beware! Some local EAPs offer only traditional counseling services and can act as feeders into private practices or agencies. Large, national EAPs can be cost-prohibitive and may not provide the same attention to small and mid-size employers that they offer to major corporations.

Several years ago, in response to a growing interest in EAP, the Business Council embarked on a project to select and offer a high quality EAP as an affinity program for its members. After a rigorous due diligence, the ESI Employee Assistance Group was chosen for the breadth and depth of services offered. BCNYS members are now eligible for a 20% discount on the ESI plan which offers more services than any other Employee Assistance Program, including many services for HR such as:

Employee Assistance Programs are unique insofar as they benefit both the employee and the employer via reduced health costs as well as increased safety, performance and productivity. To learn more, click here. As a Business Council member, you are eligible to enroll in a first-rate EAP at a substantial savings – regardless of the size of your organization!