By Dr. Walter Reichman


Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, were originally developed by sociologists at Cornell University to encourage employees to seek professional help when experiencing a mental, physical, or addiction problem. Today, 97% of large-scale American companies and 75% of all medium-sized companies have EAPs, positively impacting the physical and mental health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of employees and their families.


Of course, most addictions ultimately affect an employee’s performance, which is why organizations have these programs. There are typically two paths employees take; in the first, in which a manager or supervisor observes an employee’s decrement, the manager must document the behavior, provide warnings, and explain that the employee must go through the EAP process. For an employee voluntarily seeking help, the EAP will request permission from the employee to inform his or her manager. In both instances, the underlying idea is that the employee has job security while going through the process, and there is guaranteed confidentiality about the nature of the problem and the treatment process.


My involvement in the development of this program began when I was 32 years old. I was an assistant professor at the bottom of the salary scale, a father of a month-old son, and my wife was on maternity leave. We had a new mortgage and an empty savings account. One day, a colleague asked me if I would take over a presentation that he couldn’t make at a meeting at the University of Maryland; it paid $125 so I accepted. All he could tell me was that it was a talk on how to change attitudes toward alcoholics. I knew something about attitude change but absolutely nothing about alcoholism. I did some quick study on alcoholism, but still did not understand all that was involved when I set out to the University of Maryland. My plane to Washington DC was late, I missed the bus to the University, and then my taxi got lost. I arrived 10 minutes after my talk was to begin, running up the stairs in a sweat and into a man who asked me if I was the person he expected. When I said yes, he gave me a look that reminded me of the last blind date I had. She opened the door and after she saw me wore an expression of "you are not what I expected.” Nevertheless, he ushered me into a room where the previous speaker was killing time and was glad to see me. I looked around the conference room into 30 male faces who looked at me with anticipation. I gave my presentation and received no feedback from the audience, just blank faces. I remember thinking, get your $125 and get out and forget this day. I completed my presentation to polite applause. The person who greeted me said thank you and invited me to lunch with the group. I really wanted to leave but thought $125 plus lunch will save me a few bucks so I went along with the group, and something unexpected and phenomenal occurred. People came over to me and told me this was exactly what they needed to hear and how great and important my presentation was. I was asked to attend a week-long meeting at the university to help them plan the future of this new program. These men represented the 30 alcoholism programs that existed in business organizations in the United States. The planning meeting would be during a college intersession and they were paying $125 a day. I accepted.


I returned to the University with two suitcases; one with clothes and the other with psychology books because I still had no idea what I could contribute to a problem I knew nothing about. The meeting turned out to be a life and career changer for me. There were approximately 100 people at this week-long session. Its goal was to design a training program for 100 people who would learn to set up what they labeled Occupational Alcoholism Programs using the method developed by Cornell. The people at the session were from government, labor unions, business organizations, alcoholism organizations, and treatment facilities. I learned that Congress had created the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and within this organization there was a division directed at preventing alcoholism in industry. Congress had appropriated $50,000 to each state to hire two people to set up such programs, one in the private sector and one in the public sector. That week and for years afterward, I was involved with wonderful and brilliant people who were “recovering” alcoholics.


One never recovers from an addiction; it is a lifelong struggle. As an example of the people I met, there was a man who went to jail for five years for holding up a supermarket while intoxicated. He was caught when running across the parking lot holding his sawed off shot gun and thinking, “I better drop this before I hurt someone.” He dropped it; it went off and shot him in the leg. I met a CEO whose diet during the working day consisted of six to eight bowls of consume prepared by his personal chef. It wasn’t until his head fell into the bowl of soup one afternoon that it was discovered his consume was vodka. I met a woman who made her mark in her company by drinking the male executives under the table and becoming “one of the boys.” I met a super salesman who was given a Cadillac as a mark of his success and drove it home. He woke up in prison with no idea of what happened to his car. I worked with a fellow who was fired for molesting the wife of his boss at a company party. I met a man who had been a child sex slave to a molester who plied him with drink and drugs. I heard Senator Harold Hughes – the man who initiated the government’s involvement in addiction prevention, and was responsible for moving the legislation through Congress and persuading the President to sign it – describe his years as an alcoholic leading to his failed attempt at suicide. He then sought help, became sober, and committed his life to prevention and treatment of the disease. His brilliance, dedication, and sobriety led him to become the Governor of Iowa and then to the U.S. Senate. He and all those I met struggled to maintain sobriety, and over the years, I saw some of them lose their battle.


I did what I could to offer my knowledge to the preparation of the training program and actually became a part of the training program. I lost one fight with the group: I urged them to have a training program for the Directors of the State organizations to help them understand the goals for these 100 trainees to help them with their work. Without it, I feared that our process would be doomed to failure. For a whole lot of financial and logistical reasons, my recommendation was turned down. The training for the 100 Occupational Alcoholism Professionals was held in Pinehurst North Carolina during that summer of 1972 and I was actively involved. The 100 trainees formed a community and returned to their own states to begin this new program for the United States. Four months later I received a call from the Institute, telling me I was right, that the program was failing because the State Directors were oblivious to the program and were not allowing the program to even begin. I was dispatched around the country to meet with State Directors and the trainees to set them on the course for which they were trained. The process developed slowly over several years, but the program worked and within a few years after the initiation of the program in a company, most alcoholics in an organization were confronted, sent to treatment, and most were in the recovery process.


Then, something unanticipated occurred which changed the nature of the program. There are dozens of causes for detrimental performance. Managers began sending employees who were not alcoholics but were enduring physical, mental, and family problems. The program, as part of its mandate, was required to find treatment for all the conditions that employees experienced that negatively impacted their performance. Because of the success of the programs there were many self-referrals. After a few years, it became apparent that these programs were much more than alcoholism programs and a decision was reached to change the name to Employee Assistance Programs. These programs continue to succeed and proliferate. A professional association was created, and named the Employee Assistance Professional Association. Employee Assistance Professionals were certified as ready to do their work. A discipline was developed and courses and degrees established at recognized universities. A profession had been created. My own involvement continued for many years as the programs grew and developed. Looking back on those years provides me with a great deal of satisfaction for being at the creation of an enterprise that provides such positive outcomes for employees.


Dr. Walter Reichman is a partner and vice president at OrgVitality, the president of the Psychology Coalition of the United Nations, and the main NGO representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations from the International Association of Applied Psychology. He is also a Professor Emeritus from Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Walter is the editor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology Help the Vulnerable: Serving the Underserved. Walter has an MBA from City College of the City University of New York and an MA and Ed.D from Teachers College of Columbia University.


This article is part six of our series on the life of Dr. Walter Reichman.


Email Dr. Reichman directly for more information.



Research suggests that roughly half of American adults make New Year's resolutions, and they're smart to do so; making a resolution at the start of a new year is ten times more effective than making it at other times. Organizations can learn from what makes a personal resolution work, and maximize their effectiveness with these three key aspects:


First, make your resolutions public. Studies show that people who announce their intentions to change are significantly more likely to follow through because they then have to live up to other people's expectations. Not only will announcing your resolutions company-wide make you more accountable, but it will help get buy-in from your employees, who likely will be able to contribute to your goals.


Second, rhythms matter. That's part of the lure of the New Year; it's a set time to reflect on your previous year's promises, how well you succeeded, and where you want to be in another 12 months. While most people focus on individual goals, the most successful leaders take the time to make resolutions for their organizations as well. Now is a good time to take stock of where you want your company to go over the next five or even ten years.


Third, use resolutions as an opportunity to "connect with your ideal self," as Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal suggests in The Willpower Instinct. New Year's resolutions for self improvement offer an opportunity to reflect on who you really want to be, and invest in that goal. In this case, "your ideal self" doesn't have to mean you individually, but rather your organization's ideal culture, competencies, and more.

Of course, setting organizational resolutions are even trickier than self-resolutions, because they require the cooperation and work of teams of people. Not sure where to start? Collecting feedback from your employees - often an overlooked but valuable asset - can help define both strengths and weaknesses and guide your change decisions.


Need help setting and maintaining your organization goals? Email us for more information.


By Dr. Walter Reichman


“What are you going to be when you grow up?” is a question I heard very often from a large family of aunts, uncles , their friends as well as random people I encountered. This question had a powerful effect on me. For one thing, they expected me to grow up. I was a pretty happy kid and liked the status quo and from the grown- ups I knew I didn’t see much advantage to growing up. It also meant that they expected me to “be” something. What was it I was supposed to “be.” I had no idea.


I did well in elementary school. I reached the pinnacle of success when I became captain of the monitors in the 7th grade. I was now responsible for the wellbeing of every kid from kindergarten through the 8th grade during the time they arrived at school to when they entered the building in straight lines in size places. Such leadership came with certain perks which I relished, such as choosing line monitors, or pardoning my peers who violated the playground yard decorum.


I almost became valedictorian of my class. Whatever criterion they used in selection left me tied with my friend Bobby. Our Principal asked us both to give a speech before her and she would decide which one of us would present it at graduation. She decided on Bobby Abrams. I do not recall being upset because Bobby was a good friend and probably because I realized his speech was better than mine. I heard Bobby speak on many occasions during his career. I heard him speak when he ran for Bronx Borough President, Attorney General of New York, and finally for the United States Senate. I was sorry that my boyhood friend lost to Al D’Amato because he would have made a good senator and because I had fantasies about the advantage of having a friend in the U.S. Senate. My principal was right in her choice but this probably eliminated a whole string of potential occupations from my consideration. I never again thought seriously about being a writer, a lawyer or an actor.


My other career thoughts during those years was to become Secretary-General of the United Nations. When I expressed that to my 10-year-old friends the expressions on their faces eliminated that from serious consideration. They all wanted to be Joe DiMaggio or some other Yankee baseball player.


I moved onto a prestigious high school, The Bronx High School of Science. I had to pass an entrance exam to be accepted and, much to my surprise and to the delight of my parents, uncles, aunts, their friends, and assorted other people, I did pass. I spent four years at Bronx Science and learned that I was not cut out to be a scientist, mathematician, engineer, or physician. My parents, however, decided I should become a pharmacist. They would open a drug store and I would be the pharmacist. As a 15-year-old thinking of independence and breaking away from their antiquated way of life, this was anathema. I think I never learned to balance a chemical equation out of fear it would lead me to a drug store.


I entered City College knowing what I did not want to be but not knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I knew I wanted liberal arts. I liked history, English, sociology, anthropology, but what could you do with that? Usually, just teach. And I was certain that I did not want to be a teacher. When I took interest tests and aptitude tests at the City College Counseling Center, all the data said be a teacher and I said NO. I was generally not impressed with the teachers I had in high school and the thought of having to teach students like me seemed the most boring way to spend my life. Yet the tests were correct, and when I taught my first class as a graduate student, it immediately changed me. I spent 40 glorious years as a college teacher, but that came later.


There was a legend about how a college student becomes a psychology major. He has a personal problem, so he takes a psychology course to solve his problem; his problem isn’t solved, so he takes another psychology course and when his problem is still not solved he takes another and another. By his junior year his problem is still not solved but he has so many credits in psychology he decides to major in it. This was not exactly true for me. It wasn’t a personal problem but a career problem. In psychology, there were other alternatives than teaching. I took psychology courses and liked them, especially the research courses. I particularly liked the idea that decisions were based on probability and not on certainty. The fact that you could not be more than 99% sure that there was a difference between your experimental and control group resonated with me. You could still be wrong even if you thought you were right. There was always the probability that the next experiment would prove you wrong, and I liked the uncertainty of the science. What I did not like was the particular topics of our experiments. I was not interested in rats running mazes, cats in lock boxes, or conditioning rats to avoid a shock. I wanted to deal with human beings directly. As a result, I considered clinical psychology as a possibility but decided to take a course in industrial psychology at the business school of City College. I liked the idea of business. My father had a small business, and I worked summers in department stores, wholesale dry goods stores, and in clothing chain stores. I thought I might like psychology applied to business.


And I did. In my undergraduate class I read the Hawthorne studies, which demonstrated you could improve production by incorporating your employees in the work and decision-making process. I learned that groups of workers formed a culture and society, and a good manager was aware of that culture. I learned about motivation and its implications for bringing about a successful enterprise as well as a successful life. I learned about the implications of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Carl Roger’s focus on interpersonal relationships as it affected business practices. I learned about the difference in motivation as described by McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, with Theory Y having faith in the good intentions of workers as the appropriate basis for a successful management system. I was impressed by Marrow’s research that showed that participation in decision making increases worker’s productivity. I learned about different styles of leadership and its interaction with the work situation as a way of leading people to achieve goals for themselves and their organization. This was all accomplished through applied research, where the subjects were people and the behavior being studied was human behavior in real life situations. At that time, there was also an important and meaningful controversy in industrial psychology relating to the selection of people for jobs. It was a time when psychologists were being publicly criticized and legally sued for discrimination over selection techniques. I witnessed the responses of organizational psychologists to the criticism and their development of innovative ideas and procedures to avoid discrimination. It was an exciting enterprise and I wanted to be a part of it.


I graduated City College as a psychology major, and knew that I wanted to do research that would be of use to people at work and at the same time help business organizations thrive. In my fantasies, I was presenting my ground-breaking research to the president of General Motors as we figured out how to adapt it to the auto industry. I finally knew what I wanted to be. Now I had to figure out how to become what I wanted to be. I had to achieve the required credentials to become an industrial- organizational psychologist. I still had a long road ahead in a world that was changing, and in a discipline that was changing, but I was changing along with it, and I was excited for the challenge.


Dr. Walter Reichman is a partner and vice president at OrgVitality, the president of the Psychology Coalition of the United Nations, and the main NGO representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations from the International Association of Applied Psychology. He is also a Professor Emeritus from Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Walter is the editor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology Help the Vulnerable: Serving the Underserved. Walter has an MBA from City College of the City University of New York and an MA and Ed.D from Teachers College of Columbia University.


This article is part five of a new series on the life of Dr. Walter Reichman.


Email Dr. Reichman directly for more information.