This monthly informational newsletter is designed to assist managers and supervisors with employee related issues, and deals with issues as diverse as death in a family, divorce, substance abuse, gambling, and/or leadership difficulties.
Suggesting the EAP as a source of help would be appropriate because of the personal problem that exists and availability of the program. It is likely that other behavioral-medical issues exist in this instance, because residential treatment is usually not provided for use of bath salts (illegal in many states, but available online). However, there will be recommendations by any treatment program for aftercare, follow-up, possibly 12-step meetings, and most likely self-groups for the parents. Unfortunately, treatment centers out of state are notorious for minimal follow-up after discharge, and do not typically identify solid resources and help necessary to keep the entire family plugged in to recovery. If the employee requests EAP assistance, these concerns and needs can be easily addressed.
Negotiating Employee Conflict
Q. My employee says she is thinking about quitting because she can’t get along with her coworker. Should I send her (or them) to the EAP, or should I first try to resolve his problem myself? I am a little nervous about doing this right the first time. I don’t want to lose her.
A. Managers should first attempt to resolve conflicts between employees. Here’s one approach: Ask this employee to share the history of the conflict with you, how it began, and what prompted her to come to you now. Ask what steps she has taken to resolve the conflict and why she believes they have not worked. Ask your employee about how she would like to proceed with a resolution, but anticipate making a decision to meet with both employees and play a leading role. This is important because for some employees, remaining in conflict is easier than the compromises necessary to resolve them. If you lose control of this process, change becomes optional. In this sense, employee conflicts are not solely personal problems, because they can always potentially affect the bottom line. Managers must shepherd them to a resolution. If a resolution does not appear forthcoming, involve the EAP to save time and to address hidden agendas or other unspoken issues underlying the conflict that may require ensuring confidentiality in order to properly address it.
Can EAP Help Supervisor Build Employee Relationships?
Q. How can the EAP help me as a supervisor in developing and improving my relationships with employees?
A. The success of the supervisory role is largely dependent on the effectiveness of relationships that you have with employees. An effective relationship allows you to play an influential role in maximizing the job satisfaction and productivity of your workers. There is more to achieving these goals than most supervisors realize. EAPs have resources and counseling skills, and they understand relationship dynamics that can help. Developing and enhancing emotional intelligence is the path to success, and EAPs can consult with you on ways to improve relationships and enhance them in specific ways--determining how to motivate employees, utilize their talents better, help them feel rewarded, and listen to and understand their needs. You want employees to be honest with you, open up, share their workplace struggles and their ideas, and tell you how they can best be utilized. All of this depends on your ability to be your authentic self, open up, exercise patience, and demonstrate vulnerability. These are relationship skills that EAPs’ expertise can help you attain and develop.
Top List of Employee Complaints
Q. II am a new supervisor. What are the top complaints of employees about supervisors? I plan to avoid all of them.
A. A national 2015 Harris Poll was conducted that asked employees this question. Read about it in the Harvard Business Review online at hbr.org (search bar “top complaints”). These complaints, starting with the most frequently cited, are not recognizing employee achievements, not giving clear directions, not having time to meet with employees, refusing to talk to subordinates, taking credit for others’ ideas, not offering constructive criticism, not knowing employees’ names, refusing to talk to people on the phone or in person, and not asking about employees’ lives outside work. Keeping this list in mind, conducting a self-assessment, and working to champion all of them will produce more engaged and happier employees, reduce turnover, and play a role in helping your bottom line. The EAP can help you be a stronger performer in any of these areas where you think you fall short.
Symptoms of Internet Addiction
Q. Other than spending a lot of time online, what are the workplace signs of an employee with an Internet addiction?
A. Internet addiction is not yet recognized as a psychiatric disorder, but those who struggle with it often suffer other forms of compulsive behaviors related to Internet use, like online gambling and gaming. You may not witness compulsive use of the Internet with an employee you supervise, but you can often see and measure consequences. These serve as the basis of the supervisor’s referral of the employee to the EAP. You should anticipate an irregular cycle of improvement and a return to unsatisfactory performance as you begin to confront these problems. Compulsive use of the Internet is an insidious addiction that consumes time, which is a finite resource. This means other tasks and responsibilities must be left undone due to procrastination, purposely ignored, rescheduled, accomplished less frequently, or completely eliminated from the compulsive user’s mental to-do list. These things could include assignments, organizing an office, paying bills, filing, emptying the trash, or even personal hygiene. Note that you may never associate these problems with Internet addiction, but you can still manage a problem employee who exhibits them.
Defining Subtle Abuse or Bullying in Documentation
Q. Documenting employees who participate in subtle abuse or bullying behaviors is sometimes difficult because one can’t describe what’s being witnessed, like tone of voice, for example. In the end, it just sounds like one’s opinion!
A. You are correct. Tone of voice is difficult to describe in documentation without being subjective, which may lead to its being dismissed by management as opinion. The way around this problem is to document reactions by the victim or others to the tone of voice. These effects are visible and therefore describable and measurable. Now you have something less refutable, not based on opinion. Several of these documented situations constitute a preponderance of evidence that supports the thrust of your documentation, which makes it useful for administrative purposes.
EAP's Role in Your Company
Q. All employees trust our EAP, so if we have an incident at work, such as a sexual harassment complaint, isn’t the EAP the best choice for doing the investigation so everyone knows it is fair?
A. An employee assistance program would not be assigned responsibility for conducting an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint because this is a formal function and the legal obligation of management. The process itself is what defines its integrity, not the personality attributes of the investigator. Many steps and communication points are involved in such an investigation, and documentation is relied upon later to make administrative, legal, and disciplinary decisions. The perception of the EAP as a source of confidential, reliable, and safe help would be damaged if it were to play this role, and such activity would confuse employees, thereby reducing program utilization. An EAP has a specific purpose within an organization and a defined mission within its “EAP core technology,” the principles that describe it functions. Playing an investigatory role is not compatible with this purpose, and loss of the EAP’s perception as a safe and confidential resource would result.
When Home Life and Work Life Intersect
Q. My employee’s four-year-old child is coming to work with her this week because of “some logistical problems” at home. I was permitted to make this concession. Her brother was released from prison recently and moved in with her. I am worried that a safety issue exists. What should I do?
A. It is prudent and appropriate to understand what might be going on here. Ask your employee if she is concerned about the safety of her child at home. This may alleviate your concern or suggest further steps. This is not probing or being intrusive or “getting involved.” It is a different situation because you have concern about a child’s welfare. Also, talk with the EAP so you are on record as having sought consultative help regarding this matter. Consult with your boss as well so you cover the bases. There may be no serious issues at home, but something is clearly out of the ordinary, so recommend a self-referral to the EAP. EAPs are expert motivational interviewers and have the skills and the assurances of confidentiality needed to learn more about her situation than she may be willing to tell you.
When Your Employee is Your Long-time Friend
Q. I am a long-time friend with my employee who is a participant in the employee assistance program. Can I ask her to sign a release so the EAP can give me more information about the nature of her problems and how they are being treated?
A. You can ask, but the EAP will recommend against it. Establishing a separate information flow to you creates a relationship that is fraught with risk and assorted problems. The EA professional will offer quality guidance on your role in managing performance so your employee has the best chance of returning to the level of performance you require. Your employee is free to share information, of course, but when supervisors try to manage performance and also process personal problems, employees typically diminish their involvement in treatment recommendations due to role conflict. Why? The employee perceives you as a trusted, safe, and understanding friend, and will relate to you on this basis rather than as the employer’s representative, which is your job. Undermining this employer-employee dynamic removes a constructive force and sense of urgency that troubled employees rely upon to become motivated and stay focused on treatment.
Supervisiors Should Particpate in Conflict Resolution with Employees
Q. Should supervisors participate in conflict resolution sessions with employees, or refer these issues to the EAP? It all seems a bit intimidating.
A. Helping employees resolve differences is an important supervisory skill. Many resources for doing it exist. It is a myth that you must be formally trained to sit down with two warring workers and help them resolve differences. Find an approach that matches your work style and job setting. One effective model entails meeting with both employees together and having each explain their side of the conflict. Don’t make judgments, just listen. Next, meet each employee separately and encourage a full venting. Listen empathically. Ask for ideas about resolution. After these three meetings, you will witness a dramatic temporary diminishment of tension. This comes from venting and anticipation of change that each employee experiences. Meet together, discuss ideas—theirs and yours—and write an agreement. Follow up in a week and again in four weeks. Reinforce positive change. Consult with the EAP if needed along the way, but refer your employees to the EAP upon any reemergence of the conflict, and give a strong message of accountability and expectations for the conflict’s resolution.
Depression in the Workplace
Q. Do some employees with depression still function satisfactorily at work, but if treated, could perform even better and more happily? I have employees who appear depressed, but I can’t refer them to the EAP. Still, I bet they would benefit if they went.
A. Many depressed employees can function at work adequately, but if treated would likely experience an uptick in their social and occupational functioning. Some employees may suspect they have untreated depression, and some may not identify it at all because they have slowly adapted to its symptoms over an extended period. A crisis may bring these individuals into contact with outpatient mental health services, where the diagnosis is first identified. Depressed employees may appear slow to respond, lacking in energy, or resist engaging with others. Suggest self-referral to the EAP for obvious symptoms only (e.g., “you look really tired”). Or if work tasks cannot be accomplished satisfactorily, consider a formal EAP referral. Be careful not to adapt to the personality of a depressed worker by labeling them as lazy, quiet, unassuming, or “eccentric.” When this happens, others adapt, reduce confrontation, work around the employee, and allow the condition to linger, with unforeseeable consequences.
Is it Grief or Leave Abuse
Q. My employee has been absent for three weeks since the death of his mother. He phones to say he is dealing with estate issues. He has an attorney and family support. He is far past the five days of funeral leave we offer. I think a leave abuse issue exists, but should I refer him to the EAP?
A. If you have a bereavement leave policy, consult with your HR advisor regarding suspected abuse. Employees on funeral leave, responsible for managing the affairs of the deceased, may experience additional distress or suffer from grief that affects them later because they postponed self-care while attending to the needs of others. Suggesting the EAP is always a good idea for any problem. Dozens of things could explain the absence, but you can refer your employee to the EAP based on a finding of funeral leave abuse. EAPs have discovered that problems like this often are multifaceted. An employee may be grief-stricken, depressed, abusing leave, relapsing into an addiction problem, looking for another job, taking vacation, or all of these things at the same time! This is why EAPs exist—to help sort out the issues and help organizations retain valuable workers.
Employee Recovering From Meth Abuse is Drinking Alcohol
Q. One of my employees went away to a halfway house for meth abuse treatment. He self-referred and now looks great. I am nervous because he socializes with employees after hours, and he drinks alcohol with them. Can meth users drink alcohol safely?
A. Your employee may be abstinent from meth use, and his occupational and social functioning may be dramatically improved, but alcohol use following treatment for meth addiction would be contrary to the position of nearly all medical doctors who are experts on addiction and its treatment. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction treatment requires “engagement in recovery activities.” Recovery means abstinence from psychoactive drug use, which includes alcohol, in order to avoid relapse to the drug of choice. Your job, of course, is monitoring performance and not focusing on the employee’s personal decisions outside work, no matter how ill-advised they may be. Relapse and its effect on performance may be evident in a week, a year, or more. If or when that time comes, engage the EAP.
How to Spot Exceptional Employees
Q. I would like to identify employees who appear to have the most creativity and drive. Is there a way to easily spot these employees in a work environment that does not allow for much of either?
A. Employees with creativity and drive tend to have skills often associated with entrepreneurial thinking. Meet with your employees regularly, and talk to them about what makes them excited and what makes them feel engaged. Keep the following in mind: Do you have employees who like dreaming up new ideas? Are any employees naturally prone to spotting new business opportunities? Do any employees consistently demonstrate their ability to spin positivity out of disappointment and see the silver lining of the cloud? Do you have employees who take initiative on the job to undertake something new without being asked? Evidence of these behaviors can often be spotted even in the most controlled, uninspiring, and limited work settings. Employees who are courageous and unafraid to think outside the box will find a way to get their needs met, even if it is not in your company, so working with your managers to create opportunities is one key strategy for retaining them and reaping the benefits of their talent.
Help, My Employee Seems to be Suffering With Schizophrenia
Q. My employee came to my office the other day to say he was being followed by agents of a foreign country and he hears them talking about him. He acts sincere, but I know this is mental illness—schizophrenia, right? How do I get the EAP involved?
A. Your employee’s behaviors could be explained by mental illness, such as a type of schizophrenia, but an evaluation would be needed to learn more. Those affected by schizophrenia (about 1 percent of the population) may have their first overt episode of the illness in young adulthood or later. It may therefore be witnessed on the job, and it can be alarming to unwitting coworkers when delusions or auditory hallucinations are shared. Effective medications exist for schizophrenia, and unlike decades ago, they allow employees to function quite adequately. The risk that an employee with mental illness will become violent is overblown, but a fitness-for-duty evaluation afforded by your personnel policies is appropriate if behavior interferes with or is disruptive to the work situation. You can start by suggesting the employee visit the EAP, or consult with the EAP about the steps to take.
We All Get Along; Why Do We Need Diversity Training?
Q. We have a diverse work group of about 50 employees, and it is obvious to me that everyone gets along well. I never get complaints, and I witness no inappropriate interactions. Is diversity awareness education or training still needed?
A. Diversity and inclusiveness awareness can be suitable for any workgroup, not necessarily because of existing problems but to reinforce and strengthen a positive work culture that already exists. Think “preventive maintenance.” Remember, if you have 50 employees, turnover is a natural part of the organizational process, and this alone could support a rationale for ongoing education. Many education programs enhance and reinforce existing strengths. A seminar on workplace communication is a good example. There is always more to know about it. Although you perceive a high-functioning and inclusive workgroup, you can never be sure that covert, unspoken, or unacknowledged biases exist and that they have been felt. Diversity awareness plays an intervening role in averting potential problems.
Supervisor is Fearful of Angry Employee
Q. We have an employee who gets very angry and exhibits rage. Thankfully, his performance is good, but I worry about having to fire him someday. What is the risk of violence if an employee like this is fired?
A. IAn examination of workplace violence incidents shows some common patterns. One is an employee’s violent response to unexpected termination where, as a result, the employee believed the company or supervisor “ruined” his life. This underscores the importance of working closely with employees in correcting performance, using the EAP, providing regular feedback, and having regular performance reviews. Use performance improvement plans and apply progressive disciplinary steps if ever needed, where each step is accompanied by an alternative to attend the EAP. This leveraging approach can prevent the dismissal of some of the most difficult employees. No one can predict an employee’s reaction to termination, but the less sudden and surprising it is to a potentially violent employee, in all probability, the lower the risk of a violent response.
Group Complaints About Supervisor
Q. Three employees went to the EAP in a group to complain about me. Will the EAP take what they say at face value or use whatever is said against me? The employees are all experiencing different performance issues. What do EAPs do in situations like this?
A. It is not unusual for small groups of employees to visit the EAP to complain about a supervisor. Typically, these cases center on complaints about communication, supervision practices, anger issues, and unfair distribution of work. EAPs view these cases as opportunities to help employees and reduce workplace conflicts that could grow more severe. After a group interview, individual employee interviews typically lead to greater insights about the problem, issues within the group itself, individual employee needs, and unique concerns about each employee’s relationship with the supervisor. Recommendations follow. The best outcome is reduced conflicts with the supervisor. For serious issues concerning management practices, the EAP would recommend employees to other internal organizational resources (e.g., human resources, procedures in the company handbook). Be assured that the EAP does not function as a human resources advisor, legal advocate, or business representative, or team up to lead a charge against the supervisor. To do so would damage the EAP’s perceived value to supervisors, reduce utilization, and increase risk to the organization.
Employees Do Not Want to Participate in Diversity Training
Q. Our work unit is participating in a three-part workshop on diversity awareness in a couple of weeks. A few employees are grumbling about being asked to participate, but isn’t this training an appropriate business activity?
A. Your workforce is your organization’s most valuable resource. Continuing education, awareness, and training all contribute to helping it maintain its value. Diversity fits this purpose, as would any other topic that could enhance its functioning. That’s the business rationale. The 21st-century workplace is increasingly diverse, and where organizations or employees fail to appreciate the business case for diversity, they risk lower profits, conflicts, higher turnover, loss of customer loyalty, and the domino effect from dysfunction that flows from employee biases becoming prejudices that damage morale. Diversity awareness gives organizations a fighting chance to improve the cooperation between employees and instill the mutual positive regard critical to workplace harmony. Diversity awareness is not about forcing employees to change their beliefs, which is what will make employees grumble. Instead, diversity awareness is about understanding the critical role of respect and how important it is to value every worker, even with their differences, so job satisfaction is more likely.
What Consultative Help are Available from EAP?
Q. I know the EAP is available to consult with me on troubled employees and how to effectively refer them to the EAP. What other types of consultative help are available to supervisors from the EAP?
A. Beyond consulting with the EAP about performance issues and referrals, consider the EAP as an expert source of help and guidance in five additional areas: 1) Improving relationships you have with your employees by examining your leadership strengths, communication style, and any opportunities for improving these skills; 2) Discovering ways to engage individual employees and motivate them, based on your observations of their work habits and personality styles and thereby maximizing their productivity and job satisfaction; 3) Assistance for yourself in understanding how to better manage stress; 4) Help for difficulties you face in communicating, engaging, and satisfying the needs of upper management; and 5) Guidance in managing team communication, team development, and resolving conflicts among employees, especially where personalities clash.
What Does it Mean to be a Proactive Supervisor?
Q. What does it mean to be a proactive supervisor?
A. A proactive supervisor is a manager engaged in the supervisory role, making decisions that support the essential functions of the position and the organization’s mission. Proactive supervisors are more successful at establishing the conditions that require their response, while supervisors who are not proactive must react more often to conditions that are thrust upon them. When supervisors are proactive in supervision, they think and act upstream to produce and create desired outcomes, rather than waiting and reacting to issues, concerns, problems, and crises that will appear later, often in more severe forms, and directly as a result of a failure to be proactive. Being proactive allows them to manage stress more effectively, and they go home at the end of the day less tired. Proactive supervisors are able to influence direction, control events, and feel more satisfaction in their positions. They put out fewer fires. Being proactive does not mean supervisors will not experience sudden problems or crises that require attention and an immediate response, but it does mean that they will naturally experience fewer of them.
Alcohol Abuse and Recovery
Q. We dismissed an alcoholic employee who relapsed after treatment, but now we hear he has been sober for over a year. It’s incredible because his case was a 25-year saga of problems and relapses. What explains this? He lost a six-figure salary.
A. It is impossible to know all the factors that contributed to this pattern when the employee was with your company and the surprising success at recovery after termination. However, some common observations about recovery are worth understanding. Chronic alcoholism is always accompanied by an unpredictable path of progression—including problems at work and home, incidents and physical illness, and enabling patterns within the family and in society, all of which direct the course of the illness and the timing for when (if ever) the addict will accept treatment. A 25-year history of issues at work suggests a long-term pattern of enabling and confusion within the organization that may have contributed to the alcoholic’s belief that one more day without entering treatment was possible and that after treatment, a relapse would be accommodated. Remember, alcoholism is a drug addiction accompanied by cognitive distortions in thinking, especially denial. Your employee’s fear of job loss may never have materialized until after it was experienced, wherein the need for treatment and recovery was accepted in order to financially survive. But this is only a guess.
Self-Referral vs. Formal Referral
Q. I was about to make a supervisor referral of my employee to the EAP, but before I could, he went to the program as a self-referral. This is great, but I don’t have a release signed, as I would if this was a formal referral. Should I ask him to sign one now?
A. Unless a serious work rule violation occurred, where a formal referral would be included, you can monitor your employee’s performance for now as you normally would. You should expect resolution of performance issues. You will feel in the dark about what the status of your employee’s participation in the EAP might be, but such is the case with any self-referral. That’s okay. If your employee continues to struggle, then initiate a formal EAP referral and request a release as usual. Note: If your employee was aware of a pending supervisor referral, and decided to self-refer to prevent your communication with the EAP, this will have no effect on your ability to monitor performance and act as needed. The key is to focus on performance.
Changing Your Own Perceptions
Q. I am growing tired of being a supervisor because I don’t like solving everyone else’s problems. This is how I’ve come to see my role. How can I see this job differently? I am about to quit.
A. The most common struggle supervisors face in understanding their role is learning to manage and lead. This includes establishing goals and objectives, and then helping employees get clear on the required outcomes. When employees have this clarity, then things settle down and your life gets easier. Employees then know what to do, and you become less of a micromanager. Delegation is an integral part of this process, of course. It entails assigning work, handing over authority, and holding accountable those whom work has been assigned. Grab a book on the topic of managing people at work (many such books exist), and see whether taking these steps might take the load off. Meeting with the EAP to process this journey to improvement will make it much more likely that you will be happier at work.
Sharing at the Workplace
Q. Is it okay for supervisors to talk about their personal problems and stress in front of employees, or are we supposed to never let them see us sweat?
A. Employees who perceive you as a “real person” are more likely to consider you approachable when the need arises for help or intervention with job problems they can’t handle alone. This does not mean that you must make an effort to share your personal problems. Instead, you should present yourself in a way that matches your personality style and facilitates a professional and constructive relationship with employees. It is a matter of choice regarding how much you personally share, unless your job setting dictates otherwise, such as in a military or similar context. There is no hard-and-fast rule about personal disclosures, but you should consider their impact regardless. Remember, your relationship is not just with your employees, but also with each individual employee. Some employees may need you to be direct and formal, while others may benefit from seeing your more vulnerable side. Both types of employees can be high producers.
How to Energize Employees
Q. How can I energize my employees and get them to feel excited about the work we are doing?
A. Energize employees by taking every opportunity to recognize their contributions while urging them to excel. Spend time periodically letting them feel your enthusiasm for the work, the goal, the vision, and the ultimate outcome because this positivity is contagious when it’s genuine. Be sure you find your own ways to stay excited and energized because if you can’t feel excitement yourself, it will not be possible to pass it along to them. Remind employees about their past achievements, and get them to understand the underlying reasons they succeeded and did so well. This will offer clues about what keeps them energized. Urge employees to top last year’s achievements. If they feel your energy and genuine concern for them, they will accept your recommendation to do so without rolling their eyes.