Professional memory loss.

Author:Hughes, Daniel

The retention of knowledge is a critical issue faced by individuals, families, work groups and organizations. To the average person, memory loss reflects many things from incidental forgetfulness to the onset of dementia. However, to a profession such as employee assistance, it is a challenge that deserves special attention.

Recently, I had the opportunity to address a group of colleagues at an EAPA chapter meeting and mentioned the late Jack Hennessey. I was surprised to discover that many had not heard of Jack, nor did they appreciate the role he had played in the profession's history. Jack was a pioneer in the development of union-based members' assistance programs and had a long and distinguished career in the EA field. He served as president of the Association of Labor-Management Administrators and Consultants on Alcoholism (ALMACA) and the first chair of the Employee Assistance Certification Commission. He was a mentor, communicator, and consensus builder who was passionate about the value of EAPs. This is not a critique of my colleagues who were unfamiliar with Jack's contributions but a reminder of the importance of preserving the field's collective memory.

As EAPA enters its fifth decade, many of its original proponents, innovators and practitioners have retired, moved on, or passed away. Could their legacy be lost and forgotten?

This article will discuss some of the implications of knowledge loss for the EA profession. It will explore two factors that drive knowledge loss and propose a plan to collect, protect, and disseminate the accumulated knowledge and collective memory of the field.

Case Example

In 1990 I had the opportunity to visit The University of Michigan and meet Jack Erfurt and Andrea Foote. Jack and Andrea had built impressive careers as workplace researchers interested in various aspects of employee health and well-being. They had developed a number of innovative programs designed to reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease (Erfurt and Foote 1984). By the mid-1980s they had turned their attention to employee assistance programs. Subsequently, they developed and implemented a range of EA-focused research projects with a diverse group of partners including the United Auto Workers, Detroit Edison and the Henry Ford Hospital.

Their work contributed to our understanding of relapse prevention, the value of EAP follow-up counseling services, EA information systems and the natural linkages between EA and wellness programs...

To continue reading