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100 Years of Wellness: The Evolution of Employee Assistance Programs

Today, many businesses offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) to enhance the lives of their staff in and out of the workplace. EAPs champion a wide array of needs, including:

  • mental health
  • financial wellness
  • adoption and parenting services
  • legal aid
  • and more

But these initiatives weren’t always so common. In fact, you may be surprised to find the earliest form of EAPs had a much narrower focus.

The first EAP

In the early 20th century, drinking on the job wasn’t out of the ordinary. But Bill Wilson, a Wall Street analyst, thought this behavior held industries back and damaged employees. Bill Wilson sitting and smilingThis inspired him to form Alcoholics Anonymous, an initiative that helped employees lead healthier lives. This proto-EAP would also prepare and give workers focus for the manufacturing boom of the coming decade.

As a result of higher production spurred by World War II, more companies adopted similar programs to specifically combat the influence of alcoholism in the workplace. By the 1960s, however, one insurance company saw an opportunity for more comprehensive wellness.

Picking up steam

In 1962, the Kemper Group formed the first true EAP by expanding its initiative to address more than just alcoholism. In fact, it included programming for employees’ families to address emotional, legal and marital issues. Soon after, other businesses and their employees followed the Kemper Group’s lead.

""By the 1970s, EAPs reached unprecedented popularity. The concept took center stage at conferences, seminars and other events across the country. And when federal funding for mental health programs was cut in the 1980s, struggling agencies partnered with businesses to stay afloat. This move increased EAPs’ momentum and resulted in an even broader scope of care.

EAPs maintained their place until the end of the 20th century. After 9/11, however, more organizations prioritized EAPs to help their employees cope with national tragedy, global events and natural disasters. The renewed focus on EAPs also marked another evolution for the concept. Soon EAPs would grow to offer parent services, financial wellness resources and more.

Modern EAPs

In 2020, the pandemic would compel businesses everywhere to reevaluate their EAPs. This push included resources to help employees with stress management, sleeping disorders and overall resiliency.

At the same time, innovative self-service tech helps employees understand and ultimately select their benefits easier than ever before. Plus, the right tools make it easy for them to ask important questions about the unique EAPs their business offers.

Robust and versatile software also allows an HR department to spend less time on the redundant and manual aspects of benefits administration. Instead, they have an opportunity to place a stronger emphasis on promoting EAPs and strategizing the next step in their programs’ evolution.

Do you have the HR tech to maximize your EAP’s potential? Explore how Paycom’s easy-to-use app helps HR professionals enhance the lives of businesses’ most important asset: their people!

DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.