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EAP Proves a Giant Step for Ballplayers

For Michael Paolercio, director of employee assistance programs, work-life and wellness services for the San Francisco Giants, winning the World Series in 2010 proved the organization's ability to handle stress and show resilience under pressure.

February 21, 2012
Related Topics: Top Stories - Frontpage, Employee Assistance Programs, Talent Management
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The San Francisco Giants' historic 2010 World Series win was a triumph not only for the team but also for all of San Francisco—a city that hadn't reigned as Major League Baseball champions since it moved west from New York in 1958.

For Michael Paolercio, director of employee assistance programs, work-life and wellness services for the Giants, winning the World Series proved the organization's ability to handle stress and show resilience under pressure.

The Giants have the only internal EAP in all of pro sports in the United States, Paolercio says. The program serves ballplayers and 250 full-time, year-round employees including managers, coaches, scouts, retirees and family members. The EAP is also available to game-day workers, whose ranks swell in season to about 1,000 people including vendors, ushers and security guards.

Started in 2001, the internal EAP is part of the team's medical department, which lent it immediate credibility, Paolercio says. Still, getting the team to trust the EAP as a confidential resource proved difficult at first.

"Twelve years ago, the players would not have brought me a glass of water if I were on fire," Paolercio says, presenting his EAP model at the Integrated Benefits Institute & National Business Coalition on Health's Health & Productivity Forum in February in San Francisco.

"Trust comes with time," he says. "It's not just granted to you."

Paolercio built that trust little by little in several ways. First, having the program on-site created familiarity as well as a safe, confidential place for high-profile players to seek help. "They could access the program without being seen by the public," he says.

Second, years of traveling through the minor leagues allowed Paolercio to form early relationships with players before they were brought up to the major league squad. Minor league players also are more accepting of mental health services, such as anger management and marriage counseling, Paolercio says.

"They are looking for any competitive edge to get them to San Francisco," he says.

Helping minor leaguers through rough patches set the foundation for trust once they reached the Giant's stadium, AT&T Park, where the EAP was seen as a natural component of the medical department, he said.

Among the services offered through the EAP are mental health screenings, wellness programs such as yoga and massage, legal and financial referrals, mental health and substance-abuse crisis interventions and informal consultations. Paolercio also conducts drug testing for the team.

Being a familiar face around AT&T Park has been critical to reaching the players and staff, Paolercio says. More often than setting a formal appointment, ballplayers will catch him in the hallway and ask if he has a minute right then to talk, he says.

"Informal contact," he explains, "is a very powerful tool in my job and in my organization."

Rebecca Vesely is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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