Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Careful! Don't Serve Up Problems with EAP Concierge Services

Concierge services - non-traditional helping hand services provided by EAPs and other work-life businesses to help employees resolve everyday work-life problems are gaining hold in the EAP field--well, here and there. A recent post on LinkedIn from a EAP in the United Kingdom got me thinking about this topic again.

The fragile rationale for the inclusion of concierge services in EAPs is that if you can't walk your dog and are worried about the carpet at home, this distraction isn't good for your employer's productivity. Hence a leap forward to providing a helping hand to employees that gets the logistics and worry off the employee's mind to free that brain up for more productivity.

I have one reaction to this: What is the "spirit and intent" of the EAP Core Technology?

Skeptics argue that such "concierge" services are the creations of the work-life industry and move away from what EAP services are all about. Others paint a rationale completely consistent with the core technology. 

The reality of course is that competitive pressures to keep EAPs in business (otherwise known as the market economy) are turning some EAPs into do-it-all for you, one-stop resources for employees. Is this practicaal and protectionist or it shooting EAPs in the foot?

Is this an evolutionary step in the EA profession? Or, is it a step away from behavioral risk management, hands-on help for troubled employes, and better penetration into unmanaged risks in the organization associated with human behavior that only REAL EAPs can identify and dislodge? Does it contribute to a loss of focus for the profession, thereby making it ever more vulnerable to being hijacked by managed care?

In many ways, EAPs have always provided some concierge services. I remember a kindergarten teacher phoning to say she was completely frustrated with AMTRAK for billing her $850 twice for taking a bunch of students on a field trip to New York. After four months and getting nowhere fast, she called the EAP. Yes, we took the case. After all, she does not have the time at work to be on the phone all day. About an hour of bird-dogging AMTRAK and the problem was solved. Concierge service? Perhaps, but is this proof that EAPs should dive in head first into this shallow water? If you argue yes, would you post a sign outside the EAP door that advertises "consumer affairs problems solved here?" What about your brochure?

Will these services build your utilization rate? Yes, but at what ultimate cost? I hear the siren's wail on this one? I think it is a shipwreck for the EAP field to venture this direction. I would argue you could make it easier to get farmed out. 

I think there is something called the “spirit and intent” of the EAP Core Technology. It requires an honest assessment of whether activities of your program match it because the profession is fewer in number this year than last--with many EAP closures only since 2012. I don't think concierge activity is what I would call a salvation related activity.