Leading Employee Assistance Professionals Announce Call to Action for Evidence-Based Workplace Behavioral Health Services

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Employee assistance professionals and researchers publish white paper to promote collaboration among work organizations, EA practitioners, researchers and educators, to establish evidence-based standards toward effective and optimal use of employee assistance and workplace behavioral services.

Without a commitment to high-quality research, public health stakeholders will continue to lack evidence-based standards to guide both professionals and consumers toward effective and optimal use of EA/WBHS.

While work organizations invest billions of dollars in workplace behavioral health services, the evidence-base supporting such services is lacking. Recent health care policy and delivery changes, such as those resulting from the Affordable Care Act in the United States, highlight the need for rigorous studies on such workplace behavioral health services (WBHS) as well as the employee assistance (EA) programs and professionals who deliver them. With the goal of establishing guidelines for the implementation of an evidence-based model for service delivery, seven prominent practitioners in the field collaborated to publish a paper titled, “Bridging Public Health with Workplace Behavioral Health Services: A Framework for Future Research and a Stakeholder.” This paper outlines the issues, challenges and goals in a proposed study that aligns employee assistance and workplace behavioral health with the broad field of public and global health (including the disciplines of workplace health promotion, occupational health, and organizational studies).

WBHS encompass a wide array of services and programs offered by or through the work organization to both prevent and address the mental health and substance abuse risks and problems of employees and often their families. Despite widespread use of these services, there is little systematic research on their processes and effectiveness, which is a public health problem for four primary reasons. First, behavioral health issues have a profound impact on workforce productivity and employer costs,as well as negative ripple effects into families and communities. Second, the payers for, and consumers of, EA/WBHS will benefit from knowledge about how these services work and how they can be improved. Third, EA/WBHS professionals lack evidence-based principles to guide the delivery and enhancement of services. Finally, the ACA has specific provisions for behavioral health and also relies on work organizations to help deliver these services.

The authors suggest that,“By devoting considerable resources towards WBHS, industry, government, and society as a whole appear to assume that WBHS, predominantly provided through Employee Assistance (EA) professionals, are effective. Given increasing resource constraints, these stakeholders can no longer afford to let this assumption pass untested. In the absence of science and evidence-based practice (EBP), work organizations choose programs almost entirely on the basis of cost, and providers have no tested standards for quality.”

National surveys estimate that between 15% and 20% of full-time workers have mental illness, about 10% have alcohol use disorders, and both amphetamine and prescription drug abuse is on the rise (Drug Testing Index, 2013). Cost-of-illness and productivity-loss studies suggest that work organizations face considerable costs due to work stress, stress-related diseases, worker depression, and substance abuse. While the majority of these costs are borne by society, work organizations face significant burdens due to absenteeism, disability-related work leave, lost work productivity, medical claims, and presenteeism (i.e., present at work but with productivity impairment due to unaddressed health issues.

Lastly, the authors conclude that, “Continued neglect of research in EA/WBHS portends several problems, including stagnation for the field, ineffective education and training of new EA professionals, and lack of innovation. Without a commitment to high-quality research, public health stakeholders will continue to lack evidence-based standards to guide both professionals and consumers toward effective and optimal use of EA/WBHS.”

The paper provides a framework for new studies, a list of research domains of interest to stakeholders, and a call to action to initiate a new era of research. The call to action is the most important as the field looks for new ways to enhance the behavioral health of the workforce, its impact on work organizations, and on public health in general. Readers are encouraged to use their role (as one of the five collaborators), and the ideas in this paper, to collaboratively build a public health evidence-base for EA/WBHS.

The paper can be downloaded here: http://www.eapassn.org/Portals/11/Docs/Newsbrief/PBRNwhitepaper.pdf

The study was sponsored by The Employee Assistance Professionals Association, the Employee Assistance Research Foundation, and the Employee Assistance Society of North America. Supporters include the National Behavioral Consortium and the International Association of Employee Assistance Professionals in Education

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