Employee wellness has long been managed in silos, but those days may be dwindling.

Caitlin Kozicki, employee assistance/workplace programs director for Peer Assistance Services, Inc., sees the emergence of a more holistic approach that acknowledges the terrible toll that financial worries have taken on the workforce during a sluggish U.S. economy.

She will address this topic and others in a workshop, “The Convergence of Medical and Financial Wellness,” at the EBN-produced 25th annual Benefits Forum & Expo Sept. 9-11 in Phoenix, Ariz.

Kozicki cautions that a major impediment to adopting more comprehensive assessments of employee well-being is that employee assistance programs (EAPs) need to do a better job addressing substance abuse treatment – one of the most stigmatized areas under the behavioral health umbrella. Health benefits utilization is thought to be 300% higher for substance abusers.

“I think organizations as a whole don’t see it as a problem, and they want to put their head in the sand,” she says. “With EAPs, we’ve had this trend of getting away from the core technology toward meeting the needs of businesses, which takes them away from their mission to assess, refer and [identify] short-term problem resolution.”

Indeed, she observes that many EAP services are being marketed as free sessions that predate referrals to medical insurance or community resources – a departure from the concept’s traditional business model. Another problem is that any specific focus on, say, marital problems, will not be as effective as a comprehensive assessment that considers larger issues, along with root causes and symptoms of behavioral problems – regardless of why someone needs an EAP.

The potential return on investment for an EAP can be substantial, Kozicki points out, considering that job stress is estimated to cost U.S. businesses $300 billion a year, while the annual tab for depression alone is reportedly $30 billion to $44 billion. Her firm has been examining the effect of EAP intervention on employee presenteeism and productivity levels within 90 days of the initial assessment.

For more information, visit www.benefits-forum.com.

Bruce Shutan, a former EBN managing editor, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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