Frontline Supervisor

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.

March 2019

How to Encourage Employees to Use the 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?
A. 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. 

Purposeful Leadership

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

Drugs in the Workplace

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.
A. 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. 

Feasibility of Repeat Referrals

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.  

Chance of Success with Manipulative Employee?

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 2019

Employee Feels Bullied By Supervisor

Q. My employee complained to me that his supervisor was harassing and bullying him. I didn’t take action, because I felt the first step was to have him confront his supervisor. I am ready to step in, but isn’t this inappropriate until he has tried to resolve the issue with his supervisor first?!
A. In years gone by, your approach may have been commonly recommended. However, in today’s world of work, not taking action after being informed of offensive and hostile behavior is usually viewed by courts as a failure to act and negligence. Likewise, procrastination or putting off investigating the matter can be seen as apathy. Your good intentions are not given much weight. This is why sexual harassment policies support employees going to the next level of management when lodging complaints. It’s better to ask, “How do I act now in order to get a fast, fair resolution regarding this incident?” Think speed and responsiveness. Is there a role for the EAP? Yes. The employee should be offered support. Do not think that suggesting the EAP is tantamount to accusing the employee of being the one at fault. EAPs reduce risk in business organizations, and helping employees manage any sort of emotionally upsetting incident is one way they do it. 

Praise as a Way of Motivating Workers

Q.  I’m good at praising employees. What else is there to know about praise as a way of motivating workers?
A. The positive effects from praising employees can be underestimated, but it can wear thin if it is not sincere. A form of praise less often used, yet highly effective, is praise in advance. Call it “pre-praise.” When handing off or delegating assignments to employees, praise them at the start. Example: “Sherrie, with your past success at handling design crews, I’d like you to organize staff and manage the Jones account. I know we’ll be proud of whatever you decide to do.” This pre-praise, when sincere and heartfelt, not only inspires employees, but also motivates them to do their best work. You will improve your relationships with them, boost performance, and have them feeling more engaged. Be sincere. Just going through the motions, and not appearing genuine, will cause the approach to fall flat.

My Employee has Explosive Rage

Q. My employee is quick to get angry. It’s scary. It includes getting red in the face and shaking, even when playing cards on lunch break. Some coworkers think this is funny. Frankly, I am a little nervous. If he had a personal crisis, could he “go off”? Should I be concerned?
A. You have enough information to document this situation and be rightfully concerned about it. Consult with the EAP and discuss an interview approach that will support a successful constructive confrontation and EAP referral. The EAP will role-play with you the best approach. Be sure to talk to your employee in private. You don’t have to wait until the next incident, but it will be helpful to have clear examples of the behavior that is concerning, its impact on others and work productivity, and what you would like changed. Certainly don’t ignore the next opportunity. Your employee likely has keen awareness of his explosive style because others outside of work have either remarked about it or been victims of it. Coworkers should be discouraged from finding this behavior as a source of entertainment, including taunting the worker. Employees with explosive rage can act with violence while feeling detached from their ability to control their behavior. 

Supervisor Wants to Change From Cranky to Pleasant

Q. No one wants a cranky supervisor. Sometimes my mood is not the most pleasant. Are there any tricks or techniques for improving my mood so I can enjoy work more and engage with employees more effectively?
A. There are techniques for changing your mood. A frequent need to improve your mood could be a sign of depression or another medical condition. In this case, visit the EAP for an assessment to see whether there are other steps worth considering. Quick tips: 1) Exercise regularly. It will influence your mood to keep it more positive. 2) Feel an undesirable mood coming on? Go for a short “exercise snack,” a 10-to-15-minute walk outside or in a new environment. 3) Sit quietly, and for five minutes, imagine some activity you experience great pleasure in doing, such as fishing, gardening, hiking, or playing with grandchildren. This will influence a more positive mood, and it helps you keep life in perspective. Moods are related to subtle negative “self-talk.” The mood can change as you change this inner voice script. You will notice an improved effect with practice. Visit with the EAP if you remain concerned about the need to alter your mood, chronic feelings of irritability, or a communication style that does not facilitate a positive relationship with your employees.  

Is Employee Using EAP to Avoid Disciplinary Action?

Q.  I intended to give my employee a disciplinary action for chronic absenteeism. He’s been gone several days. When he showed up, he said he had just come from the EAP, where he signed a release. I feel a bit manipulated. Should I hold off on discipline or follow through?  
A. It is a positive development that your employee decided to participate in the EAP, but whether to dispense a disciplinary action is a decision to be considered in consultation with your management advisors. The planned disciplinary action may have motivated the worker to act. Do you feel the disciplinary action is no longer fitting? Do you fear it will now undermine motivation to participate in the EAP? Should you base your decision on what’s best for the organization? Is the message disciplinary action sends the critical thing? Every organization answers these questions differently. This situation is not uncommon, and it illustrates both the success and the influence of the EAP dynamic in organizations to attract, perhaps at the last moment, the most troubled workers. Sometimes, this is what an EAP success story looks like.

January 2019

Rapid Rise Leaves Supervisor Nervous

Q. I have moved up rapidly in my career and fear that I am not prepared for so much responsibility so quickly. I should be, but it does not feel that way. My big worry is being at a meeting and senior management suddenly realizing I am not qualified for this job!
A. Your fears may be normal in the face of a rapid rise in your career. Many people with fears similar to yours have discovered nothing came of them despite the anxiety they often felt. The collection of symptoms you describe is sometimes called “impostor syndrome.” Don’t panic. Talk to the EAP, and allow professionals there to guide you in gaining relief. Be prepared to share more about your concerns, career path, supervisor relationship, and specific fears. Impostor syndrome is an internal sense of fear, not based on reality. The impostor syndrome can be exacerbated by a difficult relationship with the boss or peers, or by a true shortage of skills, but rarely by the inability to perform the job or rapidly learn it. 

Grief Leadership After the Suicide of a Team Member

Q.  An employee took her own life a few weeks ago. Everyone was in total shock. There was no warning, yet many of us believe some clue could have been missed. The EAP was great, met with us, and offered guidance. Is there anything left for me to do this many days later?
A. The death of a coworker is always a shock, and it’s worse when it is unexpected. “Grief leadership” describes the manager’s role or that of anyone who leads with organizing, communicating, memorializing the employee, interacting with the family, and dealing with logistics of the deceased’s personal effects. Every employee is different in how he or she will manage grief, and none of it is predictable. Be direct, and let employees know you recognize this fact, and encourage them to use the EAP, at any time. Listen for complaints of sleeplessness, diminished appetite, and intrusive thoughts about the deceased. Allow some freedom for employees to gather and process the deceased when you see these groups spontaneously appear. No matter what, you are a role model to your employees. They are highly cognizant of how you act and respond to an incident of this nature. What you do and say will be remembered and will influence how they decide to cope with the loss.

Employee Lapsed After Eight Years of Alcohol Abstinence

Q. Well it happened—my employee relapsed New Year’s eve. He was abstinent from alcohol use for eight years after almost getting fired. His work performance is outstanding. The word is that he is “back on his recovery program.” Should I leave this alone or talk to him?
A. Meet with your employee. You already have a history of referral to the EAP and post-treatment management of his performance. Of course, you will not be able to determine the accuracy of anything he says regarding reestablishing an effective recovery program, or even regarding his abstinence. Only a professional can do that. However, you can recommend strongly that he visit the EAP as a self-referral so the program can help him reestablish such an effort. Relapses happen. They are nothing to panic about, but the sooner you have a discussion like the one you will hopefully have, the faster he will join the recovery program and the more successful he will be at sticking with it.  

Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Q. I know about emotional intelligence, and its importance in workplace communication and in maintaining productive relationships, but how do I know if I have issues or gaps in this soft skill? Is there a test? Can the EAP help improve my EI?
A. There are many resources online that discuss emotional intelligence, test it, and promote various resources for improving it. A simple quiz and discussion about emotional intelligence for supervisors is found at the resource links below. One is in the Harvard Business Review, and the other is from Workforce Magazine. Use the information to test your emotional intelligence and learn how to improve it. Your desire to know more about your emotional intelligence shows your appreciation for self-awareness. Self-awareness is the most important skill to consider when examining emotional intelligence. If your EQ test points to areas where you think you need help, bring this information to the EAP for a discussion.
Sources: You will find a good discussion about how supervisors can improve emotional intelligence at  

Depression in the Workplace

Q.  In the 23 years that I have been a supervisor, I have never seen an employee with depression. Aren’t they supposed to look sad, dejected, down in the dumps? I’ve read there are millions of adults with depression. So what am I missing? 
A. You are describing symptoms of sadness or the blues, but not necessarily what you would witness at work. Depressed employees can remain hidden because stereotypical views of depression don’t match what most people see. Depressed persons are not necessarily sad, weepy, slumped at a desk, or looking down in the dumps. More typically, those with major depression experience feelings of emptiness that don’t go away. They may exhibit extreme irritability over seemingly minor things, suffer with anxiety, restlessness, or anger management issues, or may simply not want to participate in activities others leap to enjoy. They may focus on past unsettling events, things that have gone wrong, and their failures. About 17 million adults nationwide suffer with major depression. The good news is that major depression is highly treatable. The medical community has worked hard to help the general public understand that depression is not something people can snap out of with encouragement from friends who tell them to cheer up. We all experience sadness, but major depression is a mood disorder, a true brain disease. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.