Thursday, May 27, 2010

Getting Spit On? Call the EAP!

Finally, I found an amazing and dramatic illustration of the topic I like to harp on most -- having EAPs identify and then make use of opportunities that suddenly and dramatically emerge in the workplace where the EAP solution can be applied. When EAPs do this, they grow their value and reputation, and if they are lucky enough, come in contact with major stake holders who have enormous clout. These stake holders -- property casualty insurers are one -- can elevate EAPs dramatically.

Can you guess how days the average bus driver in New York City took off last year after they were spit on by bus riding customers? The average time off was 64 days!!!!! One took off 191 days. No, these are not drivers to be disciplined for gross abuse of leave policies. They are getting paid by workers' compensation!

Amazing you say? Indeed. It's costing tens of thousands of dollars right out of the city coffers. And many of these drivers are claiming they need psychological help as a result of the pedestrian abuse they experience. Here is a link to the story.

What's the issue, and is there an EAP solution for the drivers, the public (indirectly), and the financial crisis associated with this workers' compensation nightmare? I think there is, or at least I hope you walk away from this blog with the idea that you can find untold numbers of opportunities to make yourself more useful and valued in the EAP setting. (And by the way, fear not, you won't have managed care competing with you for these classic applications of the core technology. It is off their "grid" entirely.)

Off the top of my head, the EAP should be included in a round table discussion with top management and review the data associated with these incidents. Specifically, what should be determined are patterns associated with everything from time of day these incidents occur, profiles of the spitting customers, antecedent and provocative events, worker profiles, and other variables that may point to behavioral interventions appropriate for the EAP.

For example - EAPs have skills or can closely coordinate with resources that have the skills to provide stress interventions for these cases, education on managing emotions, behavioral interface with customers, how to diffuse violence (which of course is what we are talking about when it comes to spitting). And, what about customer service? Dealing with angry and abuse customers? (see fact sheet).

How many bus drivers are depressed, alcoholic, or experience other behavioral problems exacerbated by these types of stressful incidents? What about anger management training or examining customer service issues that help employees avoid responding or provoking inappropriate behavior from people? There many more issues to examine here. Are more men than women assaulted. What's the difference? What about processing anger in groups and learning skills.

The violence of spitting on a bus driver surely is a crime. And law enforcement must play a powerful role. However, there are psycho-medical and dynamic behavioral issues at play with the larger problem, and of course, the enormous expense of workers' compensation costs demand a comprehensive attack on the problem.

The EAP is part of the solution. At least, this is much is true before I am willing to say there is not: Completely omitting any consideration of an EAP role in dealing with this problem is financially irresponsible.

Now, if the EAP is being considered at all, and no one has suggested, we need to ask why?

This problem lies at the feet of the profession. And here lies the answer to a new dawn for employee assistance programs. Am I wrong?