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HR Magazine, October 2000 : Pitfalls To Avoid

By Rudy M. Yandrick  10/1/2000

HR Magazine, October 2000

Vol. 45, No. 10

  • Ensure that peer helpers understand the limitations of their role. “They are not serving in a medical or professional role,” says Weyerhaeuser’s Dr. Jeffery N. Thompson. “Peer helpers should not be walking Rolodexes of referral resources, nor should they be making clinical judgments.” Weyerhaeuser’s peer helpers do not receive extra pay for their work, do not have name badges and do not use other symbols that imply a professional status. The limited role of problem identification—with formal problem assessment and counseling left to accredited or licensed professionals—can also help to avoid potential legal problems.
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  • Don’t expect peer helpers to undercut their co-workers. “Nobody’s going to rat on their own brethren,” says one peer-to-peer counselor. “They’ll be blackballed. Our kids go to school together. If you understand this premise, the program can go forward.”

  • Don’t allow the peer helpers to become hapless enablers for problem employees, either. Just as supervisors may do, peer helpers also may empathize with a troubled employee’s plight and try to spare the person from the consequences of his actions. Over-empathizing may lead to bitterness by well-performing employees toward both the troubled employee and peer helper.

  • Don’t let the program die of starvation. “Peer programs need to be constantly nurtured and regenerated,” says the EAP director for a major airline that used the aviation industry’s HIMS program. “When a program is successful and problems are being prevented, there is a natural tendency to let down your guard, and behavioral problems can take root again.” She suggests “keeping a face” on the program by appointing a point person or committee to sustain momentum.

  • Don’t let stingy health care plans undercut the program’s purpose. “Some employers will take responsibility only for the medically necessary care of employees after the barn is already burning,” says E. Paul Hoover, a Kansas City, Mo.-based health and productivity consultant. “Managed care often will pay only for behavioral health treatment after the employee has failed at less-intensive treatment and subsequently hit rock bottom.” He recommends that employers insist that the managed care provider accept the treatment recommendation of the EAP.

—Rudy Yandrick

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