Management’s Flawed History at Creating Healthy Workplaces
For over 20 years my clinical practice has provided Employee Assistance (E.A.P.) Programs to a number of Fortune 500 companies in the central Shenandoah Region Valley of Virginia. Many of these programs began in the early eighties and were forward looking attempts by management to address the cumulative impact of stress on their employees. They offered free counseling sessions to the employee or family member, with no questions asked about the source of stress at home or work. At the end of the intervention, employees were expected to return to work and be fully productive. If they needed more help, then they could use their health insurance and pay for treatment.
While these efforts were well intentioned and the companies were to “be commended,” the design of these programs was fundamentally flawed. The employees who benefitted most were individuals whose lives were well balanced, with limited stress and good support at work and at home. When faced with an acute stress or threat to their security, a few supportive problem-solving sessions could be very useful in returning them to their normal balanced selves.
For the majority of employees, chronic workplace stress, insecurity, lack of managerial support, or lack of work safety made them vulnerable to workplace induced problems. Lacking a basic understanding of human needs, these EAP programs were not designed effectively, despite the good intentions. Understanding how humans are designed and operate is essential for creating excellence in leadership and management. If these companies invested as much in building a human friendly work environment, they could have benefited their workers even more than the EAP programs.
Lee Hersch, PhD