Friday, January 4, 2008


1. Employees are concerned about confidentiality. That's nothing new. But here's what you might not know: Fear among the workforce that the EAP might not be confidential is a continual and natural force for every EAP and it never goes away. Don't be fooled. Your ethics and confidentiality guidelines are not enough to fight what I call "confidentiality attrition."

2. Confidentiality attrition is the erosion of the "perception of confidentiality" caused by naturally occurring fear and its result: misinformation among employees that the EAP is, or might not be confidential. Confidentiality attrition occurs when EAPs neglect to promote confidentiality frequently, regularly, and non-stop. Confidentiality attrition is a natural phenomenon. The bottom line: Any EAP that does not market and promote its confidentiality boundaries continually will eventually be seen as not confidential by a significant percentage of the workforce -- no matter what the reality.

3. Like a wave coming from the other direction, this perception will overtake your program unless it is fought with marketing techniques that continually communicate confidentiality. To fight the wave you must beat it back, and there is no end to this process. Talk about confidentiality in many different respects - how staff are trained, what laws they follow, discuss informed consent, discuss staff boundaries, releases, and the organization's commitment. Mention confidentiality in your employee newsletter. Look for confidentiality breaches. For example, do your clients meet each other in the main waiting room of an EAP office, or do you have private EAP waiting rooms? Many EAPs are modeled after "therapy offices" but EAPs aren't therapy! Separate entrances and exits help maintain the confidentiality and help market your program by word of mouth. A challenge, true, but do you see the logic in moving toward such a goal?

4. Beyond confidentiality, no EAP staff should socialize with an employee in the host organization who could potentially become an EAP client. This is a critical EAP ethical boundary you won't read about in any EAP manual or book, but you should adopt it. This boundary underscores the unique role of EA professionals in the workplace. Socializing with employees - going to lunch, joining social clubs, attending personal parties and social engagements, hiring blue-collar trade staff from the organization for personal domestic projects, etc. will damage the perception of confidentiality among the workforce. All these things have happened in EAPs we know. These practices alienate employees, disturb the fragile confidentiality boundary, and create dual relationships in conflict with each other that kill EAP utilization. New EA hires should commit to these types of expectations and you should bring them to the attention of other EA professionals to enhance the viability of the EAP profession.