Benefit plans linking wellness, EAPs see better utilization, outcomes

An employee’s wellness and employee assistance programs are intrinsically linked, as most physical health conditions co-exist with mental health conditions. As a result, there is a natural movement to link the two programs together in the workplace. It goes back to the idea that one “cannot look at physical health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity without also recognizing there is a co-existing mental health disorder,” says Todd Donaldson, director of training and consultation services at Bloomington, Ill.-based Chestnut Global Partners. “Depression and high stress seems to influence how a health condition is treated or stabilized or in some cases is a cause or factor.”

And the need for such programs continues to rise. EAP program utilization has been fairly consistent and stable at just under 7% of an employer’s population the past few years, according to Chestnut. However, according to a February survey from the company, within that usage rate there was a 12% increase in requests for crisis counseling and a 15% increase in requests due to clients’ occupational stress in 2015.

For EAPs and wellness, “the closeness … works like hand and glove,” says James Harris, director of sales and marketing at EAP provider Concern:EAP in Mountain View, Calif. By connecting the two for his clients, which are mostly high-tech companies, Harris has found better utilization, leading to reduced overall costs and increased employee productivity.

The same holds true for a major transit agency that EAP provider ComPsych works with. EAP utilization increased 24% after being tied in with wellness. And, at a large government organization, EAP utilization increased 11%, ComPsych reports.

However, Mark Paletta, senior VP of employee benefits at Heffernan Insurance Brokers in the San Francisco area, says he is not seeing a direct tie-in of wellness and EAPs with his clients just yet. “There are a lot of similarities between a well-work environment and offering a resource like an EAP, but I don’t know if there is a tie-in at the point of sale for us,” he says. He notes since much of the EAP reporting is anonymous, it is hard to make a connection for the employer.

In an EAP, wellness is just “one small piece” of a product that contains so many resources, including financial and legal, Paletta explains. “[Wellness] is a portion of it, but an EAP is so broad and has real robust capabilities that ... an EAP can definitely stand on its own,” he says.

An evolving definition

Still, the connection between EAPs and wellness continues to evolve. “The idea of wellness as vaguely defined historically has started to broaden, as there is such a thing as mental wellness and the overlap between the two,” says Chestnut Managing Director Matt Mollenhauer.

"Depression and high stress seems to influence how a health condition is treated or stabilized or in some cases is a cause or factor."

From a provider perspective, for years employers turned to Chestnut for helping employees with behavioral health, but now the relationships are based more around overall health coaching, Mollenhauer says.

“[We’re] getting drawn into that space and making that line far more indistinguishable,” he adds. “Disease management ... is [behavioral health] and individuals with backgrounds in behavioral health, like an EAP, we are well suited to work with folks with behavioral issues.” EBA

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