This week is all about the holiday hangover – we spent too much, ate too much, expected too much – many are focused surviving the post-holiday blues. Which got me thinking about EAP, or employee assistance programs. EAP has gotten something of a bad rap. Most of us tend to think that if you’re talking to someone from EAP something really really bad has gone down. Major workplace trauma, life-changing incidents, some kind of breakdown.

But what if employee assistance programs were actually of assistance to employees? What if we no longer thought of them as catastrophic crisis management, but a resource for important decisions? No matter who you are, there are days where something outside of work takes over. Your car broke down and you need to replace it, the paperwork for your college-bound daughter’s financial aid application is due, you need to find a new childcare provider. For the rest of the day, these decisions are what your day is about – sure, you show up to work and go to meetings, but your head is elsewhere.

What if this kind of issue became the purview of EAP? They would still be there to handle moments of crisis, but they could also handle lots of other moments of decision by pointing you to resources and other tools available to you from your employer. Suddenly the daunting, stressful and distracting task of finding a new childcare provider is simplified through resources like a list of preferred providers, negotiated rates or discounts, and pointers about how you can use pretax dollars to pay for child care – and the forms you need to make that happen. All in one phone call or website visit. This isn’t about the concierge services of the dot-com days – we don’t want EAP providers walking dogs or picking up dry cleaning. It’s about rethinking the possibility of employee assistance and how it can help keep employees productive during those moments when outside issues might otherwise take over their day.

This thought has been percolating since a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with Justin Marciano, Principal at WorkAngel, a technology that is combining social recognition, employee perks, engagement, wellness and benefits. Which may seem like a disjointed group of offerings – when I was introduced to them I wondered what corporate discounts and cashback shopping programs had to do with social recognition and my benefits? But the more I learned, I realized that through its partnership with Ceridian and their LifeWorks EAP/Wellness offering – positioned as an engagement and wellness solution – this combination could radically change the way we think about both EAP and employer relationships.

This new partnership was announced in October, and continues to evolve – and to be clear, my vision for the future of EAP may or may not be the path they take. But the partnership opens up exciting possibilities. For example, as LifeWorks and WorkAngel become a hub for communication, recognition, information and assistance, it could be a game changer as we continue to figure out what the “gig economy” will look like. Maybe there is a future where individuals have a relationship with someone who helps to manage their benefits, taxes and other traditionally employer-centric functions, but the actual work they do, where they work, and who they work for may change from day to day, or shift to shift. But that’s the topic for another blog…