Frontline Supervisor

This monthly informational newsletter is designed to assist supervisors with various important employee-related issues.

May 2021

Alcoholic Supervisor Embarrassed to Seek Help

Q. During supervisor training for drug and alcohol awareness, I discovered that I am probably an alcoholic. (Actually, I have suspected it for years.) I have referred many employees to the EAP, so I feel too embarrassed to bring my own problem to them. Should I seek help elsewhere?

You should seek help from a credible resource that can provide you with a proper assessment and recommendation for appropriate treatment. Feeling embarrassed is associated with shame, which is driven by stigma for the disease of alcoholism. This is not uncommon for those who seek treatment. You have likely spent many years in denial while also seeking to prevent others from noticing your excessive drinking. The motivation you feel now to make a move toward treatment is positive, but not likely to last very long, so don’t delay. The EAP is confidential, but you should be aware that you are not the only one at a supervisory or management level who has sought help. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you are an alcoholic. The second hurdle is feeling embarrassed. You are halfway to your goal of a healthier and longer life. You will discover surprising relief and acceptance if you contact the EAP to seek help.

Is Supervisor Accommodating or Hiding Fear of Conflict?

Q. When I make a formal referral to the EAP, should I try to reduce the tension associated with constructive confrontation by having the meeting outside of my office? Would the employee’s office be better, or perhaps a quiet spot in a more neutral area?

“It is important to recognize that having one’s work praised and/or one’s lack of satisfactory performance corrected is a normal, healthy, and essential part of managing worker productivity. These activities should not be viewed as regrettable or disadvantageous. Referring employees to the EAP is likewise a complementary step in this process, periodically, and one designed to help workers address personal problems that may be preventing change. None of this is to say that meetings to correct performance can’t be successfully held in other locations. Be aware that your concern about having the most accommodating location, and that this element is essential to the meeting’s success, may be motivated by your fear of conflict along with your desire for acceptance. It’s great that you are willing to be accommodating, but remember it is the employee’s responsibility to change, no matter where the meeting is held.

Supervisor Fears Violent Reaction to Disciplinary Action

Q. Can I ask the EAP to give me an opinion on the likely impact of a certain type of disciplinary action on an employee’s psychology? My concern is that the employee might “go off” and become violent.

You can meet with the EAP concerning any matter that you view as a personal problem. This includes worry or anxiety you experience concerning a decision to dispense a disciplinary action. It would be inappropriate however to ask the EAP to render a clinical judgment regarding the psychological or behavioral effects of such an action on a specific employee. You can consult with a mental health professional or medical doctor outside your organization, of course, or consult with another department in your organization unaligned with the EAP. Rendering psychological opinions at the very least requires discussing an employee’s psychological makeup. This would violate confidentiality and be beyond the scope of a signed consent, which provides for very limited information, none of it clinical..

Employee Did Not Finish Treatment

Q. We referred our employee to the EAP because of behavior and attendance problems. He entered detox at a hospital, but the rumor is that he was discharged from treatment for conduct problems. He wants to come back to work. How should we proceed? What is the EAP’s role?

A. Speak to the EAP and share what you know or you have heard. The release will allow you to discover whether your employee is still participating in the EAP. You won’t be able to learn about hospital treatment or clinical issues, but the EA professional will likely know about this incident because treatment programs and EAPs communicate closely with each other. Assuming you do not have a “firm-choice” agreement to compel your employee’s cooperation with the EAP’s recommendations in lieu of some administrative action being held in abeyance, the employee may no longer be working with the EAP. Work closely with your HR advisor regarding this situation. He or she may wish to coordinate a fitness for duty evaluation before the worker can return. Such an evaluation would assess key issues and further treatment needs. Finally, have a back-to-work conference among yourself, the employee, and the EAP to establish expectations going forward..

Outstanding Employee Has a Gambling Problem

Q.I have a superstar employee. He earns outstanding performance evaluations yearly. My concern is his gambling. After hours, he reportedly plays poker. I’ve heard that there is a lot of domestic conflict as well. Is it improper for me to comment, inquire, intervene, or involve myself in this situation?.

A. mployees who perform well certainly can have serious personal problems, and symptoms may never be visible or demonstrated at work. A rumor or secondhand information does not justify making an inquiry into your employee’s personal life unless the issue appears to be life threatening. So, you are not behaving irresponsibly by remaining focused only on performance. Remember, you know about this employee’s problems only because of hearsay. Other employees could have personal problems that are even worse. Frequently remind employees about the EAP. Remind employees about it during review periods, after a crisis, and by using reminders in workplace wellness literature. Remember also that this employee’s personal problems may not have been accurately portrayed by the source, which is not unusual for secondhand information.

April 2021

EAP Self-referral Hoax or Sincere?

Q. Our management team had a private meeting to discuss an employee’s absenteeism problem. The EAP phoned during the meeting, saying (with permission) that the employee just became a client. We’re taking a wait-and-see approach because he finally got help. Should I be skeptical?

Although it may not look this way, your employee assistance program worked effectively in this situation. Here’s why: When the organization demonstrated it was firm about taking action, this employee accessed the EAP, having recognized your obvious resolve. Employees with difficult personal problems characterized by denial and the inability to control symptoms will almost never enter counseling or treatment until they experience duress. Your meeting to discuss this situation triggered the constructive behavior. The “reality check” motivated the worker to seek professional counseling immediately. The motivating factor is fear of job loss. Should you be skeptical or feel manipulated? Is this sincere? No one can say yet. However, consistent with many employees in the same situation who suddenly head for counseling or treatment, this worker probably feels urgency and is frightened, and therefore is sincere and motivated, at least for now. Beyond effective treatment, the employee remaining motivated and involved in counseling or treatment will be greatly influenced by well-organized, follow-up communication involving the EAP, you, and the employee.

What is E-presenteeism?

Q. I understand that presenteeism is the practice of employees coming to work while sick or adversely affected by emotional distress. What about employees who work remotely? What can supervisors do to help them, and do they have the same issues?

“When applied to remote workers, presenteeism is sometimes referred to as “e-presenteeism.” With any type of presenteeism, employees are “there without really being there.” They are working while sick or emotionally stressed or with distracting concerns that diminish their ability to be fully effective. E-presenteeism is a more recent concern among human resource professionals; it appeared in the literature coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic. Most people have been affected by the pandemic. Employees experiencing anxiety, burnout, isolation, and loneliness may wander into their home office, log long hours, do so sick or not, and not perform to their fullest capacity. One survey found 80% of human resource managers fear a subculture of this low-level productivity could slowly dominate the remote worker environment. Ultimately, loss of workers is the risk if employees burn out and quit. Awareness of e-presenteeism is important. As a supervisor, be a good listener, delegate assignments with awareness, and don’t hesitate to recommend the EAP for life stressors employees disclose. Learn more at

Show Empathy When Employee Shares Personal Problem

Q. No supervisor wants to shortchange an employee who divulges a serious personal problem by not offering some advice. I think most supervisors are good listeners and problem solvers; otherwise, we would not be leading others. Still, how can we show support but still refer [an employee] to the EAP?

To show your support, be available, interested, and empathic when an employee shares something personal. Doing this much will help prepare your employee to take the next step toward accepting an EAP referral. To be empathic, acknowledge the stress or anxiety shared by the employee. Tell the employee you are glad he or she felt comfortable enough to share the information with you. Don’t rush to get the employee off to the EAP, but instead share how offering your own tips and advice would deprive the employee of a more complete answer and assessment provided by the EAP. Keep a supply of EAP business cards, or least a phone number, handy. Invite the employee, based on the urgency of any emergent issues, to phone from your office to make the appointment. Use this approach for problems associated with health and safety risks such as depression, domestic violence, or other safety-related concerns (if it is not an emergency.) .

Becoming a Confident Supervisor

Q. I need to be more self-confident. I don’t know if it is a learned trait or a natural part of one’s temperament, but can the EAP help? Also, how does acting and feeling confident influence the work unit?

A. Confident supervisors have more resilience when the going gets tough. Confidence is also an attractive feature of a leader because it in turn inspires employee confidence as it is modeled by subordinates. Confident supervisors who communicate and are empathic are less likely to have high turnover in their work units. Ask the EAP how it can coach you or identify resources to speed you toward your goal of being more confident. The following are habits of confident supervisors: 1) viewing yourself as confident; 2) fending off self-doubt; 3) making decisions with higher risk-reward outcomes; 4) visualizing goals and behaving as though success is certain; and 5) viewing setbacks as opportunities for correction and greater achievement.

Rapid Results After EAP Referral?

Q.I recommended my employee visit the EAP to resolve problems with a roommate whose partying and disruptive behavior are causing the worker to come in late nearly every day. This was not a formal referral, but how long should I wait to see changes in the [employee’s] attendance? .

A. Expect changes the next day. You made a suggestion to visit the EAP as a normal part of the corrective interview with this employee. It is his or her job to make the change; it is not the EAP’s job to fix the employee so you get the results you need at some point in the future. Expect results immediately unless some accommodation officially required by a counseling or health care provider is requested and considered in consultation with your HR or management adviser. Many supervisors have the mistaken belief that their hands are tied for an uncertain time period after a referral to the EAP or that they must accept unsatisfactory performance until the employee can “get up to speed” or until counseling can have its desired effect. A troubled employee may attempt to convince you to accept this sort of faulty thinking. If change is not forthcoming, make a formal referral.

March 2021

How Can Supervisors Encourage Employees to Use the Resources of EAP?

Q. The EAP came to our office to provide a refresher orientation and offer stress management tips. I encouraged employees to use the program, of course. However, what two or three things should supervisors generally say about the EAP to encourage its use?

Emphasizing the confidential nature of an EAP is the most important thing supervisors can say. Don’t get bogged down in the nuances of confidentiality laws or try to offer explanations about the few extraordinary legal exceptions all confidentiality laws share. The EAP’s brochure, a required statement of informed consent, and/or the EA professional can address these issues as and when needed. Employees worry about coworkers and managers discovering the nature of their personal problem or about effects on their job security, reputation, or promotional opportunities if they use the program. Offer reassurance and say the EAP will not be phoning you to ever share the nature of an employee’s personal problems or concerns. Also emphasize that no problem is off-limits. EAPs have no “problem exclusions.” Sometimes, an employee will dismiss the EAP as a resource because they believe their unique problem is not appropriate to bring to the EAP.

What is Purposeful Leadership?

Q. What is “purposeful leadership” and is it something that can help me in my job?

“Purposeful leadership” is a model of supervisor/management behavior that has recently gained traction in literature and research. Its focus is on manager behaviors that best help lower turnover, create happier employees, permit more job satisfaction, and produce a more engaged workforce. Research shows that supervisors personally grow to influence these outcomes by becoming leaders who employees want to follow. This goal is accomplished by examining personal ethics, being a role model, communicating well, being dedicated to self-growth, and learning to genuinely inspire employees with a unifying goal for the work unit that they can’t help but covet. The EAP can help you get there. Grab a copy of the book Purposeful Leadership for a Total Engagement Culture: Master the Six Most Important Leadership Habits in Six Months, by Michael J Pearsall. Do an honest self-assessment and work with the EAP to see how you can elevate and improve upon skills you’ll discover in this landmark contribution to management science.

Drug Dealing by Those on the Job

Q. Is it common for drug dealing to take place on the job? I imagine that this is the last place anyone would think of selling drugs. Getting caught would mean termination and getting arrested.

Those selling illicit drugs are, sadly, also involved in a criminal enterprise to do it. They go to where the customers are, establish trust, seek out convenience, rely on word-of-mouth marketing, and have easy access to repeat buyers. Between the street and the workplace, what location would possess these advantages? The answer is within the walls of a business. On the street, risk of arrest is more likely, undercover police are ever present, less convenience exists for the criminal dealer, reporting by passersby is near certain, and getting robbed or killed is more likely. Although any business is vulnerable to drug dealing in the workplace, some organizations are more likely to experience this problem. For example, over 50% of marijuana users are under 40; 70% are male. If your organization has these demographic parameters in large numbers, the possibility of drug dealing on the job would naturally be higher.

Multiple Referrals to EAP Could be Enabling

Q. Is there a limit to the number of times a supervisor can refer an employee to the EAP for the same performance problems that may be affected by the employee’s personal problems? And at what point would repeatedly sending an employee to the EAP be considered enabling?

A. EAPs do not place a limit on the number of times a supervisor can refer an employee to the program either for the same reason or an entirely different one. Ultimately, the manager or the manager in consultation with his or her advisors must determine what value is forthcoming from referring an employee to the EAP. If referring to the EAP reestablishes the productivity of the worker, make your decision based upon this outcome. If inconvenience, loss of productivity, and sacrifice of management time are judged to be too burdensome, then repeatedly referring the same employee to the EAP as a way of managing performance problems needs to be examined. By one definition, sacrificing the well-being of the organization for the sake of the worker without seeing change would be a form of enabling.

Is Referral Appropriate for Master Manipulator?

Q. We just referred an employee to the EAP for performance issues related to alcohol use, and he went into treatment. I’m thankful, but his history is one of being a real manipulator. I fear nothing will change. With this history, do you think I will be proven right? .

A. Nearly all EAPs can recount incidents of recalcitrant employees who achieved long-term sobriety and became near evangelists for the EAP, the company, and recovery from addiction. So, it is impossible to say how well your employee will do. Why do some employees succeed and others don’t? Certainly a part of the answer lies in effective treatment, which includes working with family members, who without help can unwittingly undermine treatment. Most success stories seem to include a dramatic shift to understanding addiction as a chronic disease process that requires rigorous self-management using a program of recovery. This includes unyielding avoidance of activities that will sabotage it. Lacking these things, relapse is more predictable. When relapse occurs, it nearly always involves neglect of elements of successful recovery.

February 2021

Empathy is Important for Supervisors

Q. Periodically, I see articles about empathy and supervisors. The dictionary defines empathy as the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Why is this so important?

Empathy in the workplace has wide application for supervisors. A simple example would be recognizing an employee is experiencing grief and offering a supportive response. A complex example would be listening to an employee’s complaints but suspending your judgment and not labeling the worker as a malcontent, but instead focusing on understanding, discovering a solution, and implementing it to benefit others. When you spend time observing behaviors of employees and engaging with them, you begin to identify their feeling states. Over time, you develop a skill called “empathic reach” or “accurate empathy.” You’re not a mind reader, but you are able to detect with higher frequency and accuracy, issues and concerns affecting your employees. You are also perceived by employees as a safe person to approach with problems and concerns. For these reasons, empathic supervisors build strong loyalty among their employees.

Monitoring for Signs of Stress in Employees Working Remotely

Q.I don’t visually observe my employees since many of them are now working remotely. I would like to keep an eye open for signs of stress, but how is this done without seeing attendance, interpersonal behaviors, or attitude problems?

A. Several research studies that track employee mental health have shown that the pandemic has taken its toll. What’s tricky is helping managers support the mental health of employees without stepping into a diagnostic role. Increasing communication with workers is a good idea because this can naturally lead to more discovery about how your employees are doing generally. Another tip is to be appropriately open about, or at least acknowledge your own feelings of, stress during this COVID-19 era. This “disclosure begets disclosure” idea can prompt your employees to share their own stress issues. You can then mention or encourage use of the EAP. Note that when an employee shares something personal with you as a manager, the degree to which they demonstrate anxiety or concern is usually minimized. Understanding this can keep you from also minimizing the importance of an issue that could urgently need EAP help. (Research study:

Referred Employee Checks into the Hospital Instead

Q. I referred my employee to the EAP, and the employee was very cooperative. The next day, I discovered he checked into a psychiatric unit for acute depression, but did not go through the EAP. I am surprised, but happy he got help. Should I work with the hospital directly or get the EAP involved in some way?

You should contact the EAP and let the program know about the issues involved in the case. The EAP won’t be able to initiate contact with the employee directly, but you can do so in a number of ways that friends, family, and employers typically do. The hospital will be a gatekeeper for this communication. Informing the hospital about the existence of the EAP will likely lead to the staff approaching the employee to encourage use of the program upon discharge. Local hospitals usually maintain close relationships with EAPs in their geographical areas and are very familiar with the sort of issue you have described. Regardless, upon discharge and return to work, encourage your worker to use the confidential and valuable follow-up services the EAP can provide. Realize that communication with the EAP prior to a supervisor referral is the ideal approach to using the EAP because it helps ensure good communication that helps the employee follow through.

EAP Has a Noninterference Policy with Management Policies and Work Rules

Q. I referred an employee to the EAP, and he phoned the next day to say he was taking a two-week vacation recommended by a therapist to whom he was referred. Would the EAP override our work rules to permit time off? I can’t afford to have him out.

A. Note that EAPs operate within a functional framework called the “EAP core technology,” and the application of this framework underscores noninterference with management policies and work rules. Your employee should follow guidelines established for managing time off. A community mental health professional’s recommendation to take a vacation does not equate to treatment for a serious medical condition. Additionally, you have only a phone call to account for this need. Start by consulting with your human resources advisor. Those individuals are the pros who can advise on responding to policy matters. Document carefully, in case attendance and communication issues continue. Phone the EAP to see if they can discuss with you what they know about a recommendation for time off. A signed consent for the release of confidential information at the EAP typically allows communication with management regarding recommendations from medical professionals that affect an employee’s work schedule..

Do Construction Workers have a High Suicide Rate?

Q. I heard from a friend that construction workers have a high rate of suicide. Is this true? What does the literature say? I work in this industry, but haven’t been aware of this before.

A. The construction and extraction industries (mining, excavation, etc.) have the second-highest rate of suicide according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The rate is about 54 workers per 100,000 employees. Several factors are associated with this statistic: the highest rate of heavy drinking of any group, unsteady employment, sleep disruption, chronic pain-driven opioid use and addiction, work pressures, a male-dominated occupation with stigma associated with mental health problems and asking for help, poor work conditions, low pay, stress, depression, and social isolation. As a supervisor in construction trades, have frequent contact with your workers so you can identify performance issues including conflicts and quality of work or attendance problems, discourage bullying, resolve conflicts, and keep the EAP well-promoted as a go-to resource for help. You may save a life and never know it. Always emphasize confidentiality when speaking about the EAP. Source: On Google, [search “samhsa report 1959 pdf”].

January 2021

When Your Supervisor Doesn't Know He is a Bully

Q. I don’t believe I am a bullying supervisor, but several employees recently complained about my supervision style as being such. I think the whole idea of bullying is nearly “fad-like” and an opportunity for employees to escape responsibility for having subpar performance. Am I correct?

In the past, the same argument was used to minimize the impact of sexual harassment in the workplace. Today, sexual harassment is illegal. Research has now documented its true cost. Bullying in the workplace is rapidly receiving the same level of recognition, also supported by research. See the citation on abusive supervision at Do you ridicule employees? Have you put employees down in front of others? Have you accused them of incompetence, kept them away from “the good assignments,” not given them credit for their work, yelled at them, or invaded their privacy by asking probing personal questions? Many of these behaviors were once considered natural elements of the traditional workplace, but not today. Talk to the EAP about making changes. Most employees who complain to supervisors about bullying say they do not see substantive changes from their tormentors. This implies that changing these behaviors can be tough. Still, you could remain at risk for employment or legal claims if your tactics don’t shift.

Overcoming Bad Chemistry

Q.I have a new employee with whom I don’t get along. The chemistry or temperament between us isn’t right, and I’m afraid down the road that we are going to have conflicts. Can the EAP help?

A. Your description of “bad chemistry” is one to explore with someone in your EAP. As you might guess, bad chemistry is not a mysterious occurrence. You are describing characteristics of personality differences that influence communication, both verbal and nonverbal. The important aspect of this problem is any resistance to trusting your employee. Trust is crucial to your achievement or to your work unit goals. You may be inclined to micromanage this employee’s work. You may give less positive feedback about their work. You may be more naturally resistant to giving them attention, tending to ignore their contributions. Would you be inclined to avoid inviting this person to important meetings, have less empathy for their request for a raise, or criticize this person more? All of these issues can lead to turnover along with the other problems this sort of schism you are describing naturally creates. The EAP will help you examine the situation and arrive at a personal coping and change strategy that can guide you toward greater understanding and compatibility.

Common Sense vs. Strong Skill Set and How the EAP Can Help

Q. My employee, an extremely bright computer scientist, is facing administrative actions related to a poor decision regarding ethical behavior. How can the EAP help, or can it?

The general guidance when it comes to almost any consideration of whether to use the EAP to help an employee is to simply make the referral. The EAP will then make the proper determination about what role it should play in helping your employee. Even if the EAP decides to refer your employee to another resource, follow-up is nearly always important, and therefore the EAP would play a part in this task. Employees with personal problems, especially those who over-use defense mechanisms like denial and rationalization, can be more prone to ethical lapses of judgment (lapses in their common sense). Your employee is smart, but is he or she level-headed and unaffected by personal problems that would make it more difficult to understand and assess a situation requiring a judgment-based decision? The specialized knowledge of being a computer scientist is important, but it is not a prerequisite for sound judgment. The EAP will likely discover the underlying issue and know the next step to take.

EAP Can Assist with Employees Who Have COVID-19

Q. Should I refer an employee to the EAP if he or she tests positive for COVID-19?

A. Yes, consider recommending self-referral to the EAP. The coronavirus has tremendous controversy associated with it, and misinformation abounds. Unfortunately, people who are diagnosed with the illness often suffer from anxieties in addition to their other symptoms, including an anxiety about whether the illness will be terminal for them. Victims of the disease may wonder how they got it, who they passed it on to, or whether anyone they know with medical problems or who is aged could contract the disease and die from it. This can obviously create feelings of guilt and concern. What are the long-term side effects? What information should I trust? Does this disease cause heart problems or other body organ damage? The EAP will offer help or obtain the support needed to help your worker overcome these dreads.

How the EAP Can Assist Supervisors with Stress

Q. Why are EAPs considered a means to help supervisors manage stress? Does this refer to our self-referral to the program to help ourselves or does this refer to the mechanics of EAPs and how they remove the burden of managing difficult or troubling employee behavior?

A. It is both. EAPs help managers with personal stress, and the EAP process helps remove the stress of managing the problematic behaviors of employees that may be linked to their personal problems. There is one part of the process that many managers forget, however. Any performance issue that is not improving is a potential referral to the EAP. This step is a de-stressor because the EAP can share the burden of helping an employee correct a performance problem. When supervisors refer employees to the EAP, they are, in fact, referring them to correct performance issues, not mental health issues or other personal problems. Frequently, it is determined that some personal issue impedes performance (but not always). In those cases, EAPs have been known to then refer employees to every sort of help imaginable, even language classes, pet sitters retirement planners, public speaking courses, reading improvement programs, and local colleges to finish degrees or acquire courses to improve skills and abilities.