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Key Findings

The six-month pilot test conducted at CUNA Mutual Insurance and Century Companies of America offers an excellent example of university-business cooperation. The following results are valuable to the continuing development of CHESS and to CUNA Mutual's reputation as an industry leader when it comes to employee programming.

  • CHESS is well received and accepted in a workplace setting. Fully 25% of the work force made use of CHESS one time or more. Regardless of whether or not it was used, an overwhelming 76% of survey respondents felt that a service like CHESS has potential value to people in a workplace setting.
  • A combination of life management and health issues will maximize workplace utilization. General topics, Stress, and Health, accounted for the majority of the usage. While there was presumed to be a stigma attached to certain issues, such as HIV or alcohol abuse, that would result in lower use, we found no evidence to support this. Rather, the survey suggests that reasons for non-use have to do more with the lack of time or need and not any "fear" of identification. A combination of the topics with a broader appeal as well as serious or embarrassing issues, which deeply affect a smaller percentage of employees, is desirable to maximize value.
  • The patterns of use differ in a workplace setting versus an in-home setting. Previous evaluations and pilot tests outside the workplace suggest that the communications services of CHESS were key to value. This pilot showed the most use made of the information components of CHESS, with small, but active discussion occurring in the Discussion Groups.
  • The barriers to use are different in a work environment. Time constraints and a perceived lack of privacy posed barriers to use not previously seen, naturally enough since previous tests centered on in-home use for a period of months.
  • Collaboration and planning is key to success. A better understanding of corporate culture was gained as a result of this joint effort. CHESS researchers have a clear idea as a result of this pilot test of how to develop and implement similar projects with corporate partners in the future.
  • Daily management of discussion groups and Ask An Expert in a multi-topic offering is very time consuming. Previous studies focused on one topic at a time, usually HIV or breast cancer. The CUNA Mutual implementation gave users the opportunity to participate in Discussion Groups in nine separate topics and ask questions of experts in seven of those topic areas. This project has allowed a much clearer idea of the staff and outside expert resources needed if CHESS continues to be offered as a multi-topic intervention tool.
  • Certain modifications to on-site technology could improve daily management in future worksite implementations. Adapting CHESS to run on the corporate local area network was a valuable learning experience that will serve us well in the future. Lacking a way to access the LAN from the campus computer network, however, required additional staff and time resources in daily physical trips to collect use data and respond to communications program participants. A mechanism to preserve confidentiality of the LAN, while accommodating the CHESS staff needs could lower management costs and expedite response time. Some possibilities to investigate might include downloading and modem, so that data collection and communications programs can be managed from a secure remote site, like the CHESS message center.
  • Involvement by specific people is key to success. Most notably, the people who need to buy into a project like CHESS, in order to achieve success, are the Medical Director, Employee Assistance Program Manager, and the executive in charge of the Human Services/Personnel Department. In particular, the first two positions are integral to success, especially with the premise that worksites are used to refer people to CHESS. If this is accepted, those staff members who are in a position to know their co-workers and whether or not they'd benefit for CHESS can make or break its implementation.
  • All of the findings point to a conclusion that CHESS has a role to play in the workplace. However to maximize the use of CHESS, we must offer fully developed modules that have broad appeal in the workplace, such as stress, parenting, depression, personal financial management, weight control, and substance abuse. The value of CHESS in the workplace will be further enhanced if it is integrated within the corporate Employee Assistance Programs and Medical departments, as well as a community-wide distribution, which also includes the employees' health care providers. In this way the workplace can serve as a point of introduction and referral, a home distribution source of CHESS, as well as a continuation for those who have made use of it in the privacy of their home once the crisis has passed.


For people in crisis, obtaining necessary information, making effective plans and decisions, and locating sources of support can play a key role in coping. However, the person doing so often faces considerable barriers: geography, education, finances, physical mobility, ability to act under stress, and the belief that action must be taken immediately. The emergence and development of computer technology, and its integration with social systems and behavior change knowledge, offer the opportunity to overcome or reduce many of these barriers by making access to help convenient, comprehensible, timely, non-threatening, anonymous, and user-controlled.


CHESS (Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System) researchers have conducted evaluations of their intervention tool using individuals in a controlled setting. To expand the knowledge base, we sought a corporate research partner for the purpose of testing CHESS in a workplace setting. The basic goals were to collaborate with a major employer in the implementation of CHESS in the workplace; to learn who uses CHESS in the workplace; to gain information about how current topic modules address concerns of a corporate workforce; and to begin identifying needs for future module development Well known for its employee assistance and corporate health promotion programs, CUNA Mutual Insurance was a logical partner.

Funding Period:
June - September 1993
Principal Investigators:
David Gustafson Sr., Ph.D