Frontline Supervisor

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

April 2022

The Risks of Over-Rating an Employee's Performance

Q. I do not always provide an accurate rating of my employee’s performance. I tend to grade higher than what is deserved. My purpose is to avoid conflict and the souring of the relationship, which I depend on to get work done. What am I risking with this practice? 

A. The practice of grading an employee’s performance higher than you should is called “rating inflation.” It’s a well-known phenomenon in management, and often the reason it occurs is that the manager is trying to keep peace with the worker whose performance is problematic. Unfortunately, the short-term gains of rating inflation are usually outweighed by the long-term negatives. For example, getting a higher rating than they deserve will give your employee a false sense of pride in their work, and it can undermine their career growth, lower productivity standards, and prevent your employee from realizing their potential in the current position. Consider meeting with the employee assistance professional to examine this issue more fully. Discuss what contributes to your fear of grading the employee properly. Also discuss communication strategies likely to help you meet your goal to establish a more truthful supervisor-supervisee relationship that will benefit you, the employee, and the organization.

What to Do When an Employee is a Domestic Abuse Survivor

Q. My employee went to the EAP. She is a domestic abuse victim, and there are legal, financial, and child custody issues that she is dealing with. She is off work right now. I want her to take all the time she needs, but how long should I wait? What’s fair? What is the EAP’s role?

A. It is commendable that you are accommodating the employee’s needs, but you will need more details regarding the amount of time she anticipates being away from work. You and your manager, along with your HR advisor, must stay in close communication. Choose someone as lead communicator. Ask the employee what conditions are necessary for her to return to work. Then follow up. A breakdown in communication and a lack of being proactive to keep communication moving along are what cause situations like this to get more complicated. This also adds to management’s frustration. Timely communication and clear expectations will help your employee remain engaged, follow through, and complete numerous stressful tasks she likely must handle. Patience is important, but your organization’s mission is also important. If you ask the employee to sign a release of information and speak to the EAP, you will feel more assured and less anxious about the employee’s status and return to work. 

Preventing Workplace Bullying

Q. What are the most important steps for supervisors and managers in helping prevent workplace bullying? 

A. The single most important step for a supervisor to take in preventing workplace bullying is informing employees that the behavior won’t be tolerated. Even if your company has an anti-bullying policy, as about half of all companies do, personally stating your position will make a lasting impression. Be aware of the work climate, and do not hesitate to ask an employee you suspect of being victimized about whether they are being bullied in any way. Periodically educate employees about workplace bullying. Also, have a discussion about different types of bullying behavior, because some employees may be practicing bullying behaviors while being completely unaware of their seriousness. Your EAP or HR advisor can offer guidance on education and awareness. Hint: Searching for bullying prevention materials associated with specific professions may yield a more applicable list of workplace bullying behaviors. Consider a meaningful staff follow-on discussion about the content. Source: 

Important Tips for a New Supervisor

Q. I am a new supervisor. What are some important tips to follow, mistakes to avoid, and considerations to think about to help keep me on track to becoming an effective manager and leader?

A. Here are a collection of tips worth considering: Avoid assuming your position gives you the privilege to be pushy and demanding. Admit you need help as a new supervisor, and turn to experienced managers for it. Understand nearly everything you say and do is modeling and will be remembered. This includes what time you come in, how late you stay, how organized you are, how you dress, the loyalty you demonstrate to your employer, admitting what you don’t know, and whether you practice work-life balance. Prepare to discover that being a supervisor is more challenging and demanding than you expect. As the boss, you have more control over your schedule, but do not abuse this privilege by doing personal business on company time--especially managing a side business--or taking longer lunch breaks than others do. Don’t be “invisible,” hide behind closed doors, or have your employees wondering where you are. Do not borrow equipment or supplies for personal use. Engage with your employees. Identify their strengths and yearnings, and then leverage this knowledge to achieve the goals of your work unit. 

Proper Documentation for Disciplinary Action

Q. On several occasions over the past year, I was told that my documentation was not good enough to support a disciplinary action. Needless to say, I am frustrated. What are the most important issues in documentation for supervisors?

A. Most supervisors have heard repeatedly that writing “the facts” and details--what, where, when, and who--are the critical parts of documentation. The parts to avoid, of course, are your opinions, analysis, and psychological appraisal of the worker. Less discussed, however, is timeliness of documentation, which refers to the lag time between the incident and when you write it. You may be busy, but as more time passes between an event and documentation, the less accurate that documentation will tend to be and the more likely it will contain judgments and overtones of your emotional response to the incident and the employee’s personality. The reason is that you will remember how you feel and emotionally respond to the worker or incident longer than you will remember the facts and details of what actually occurred. 

March 2022

Drug Testing Does Not Prove Impairment

Q. Urine drug testing is part of our comprehensive drug-free workplace program. I know that a test will tell us whether indeed someone is positive and what drug they are using, but will it also prove they were impaired? My employee insists he was not impaired.

A. Your company may conduct a urine drug test in accordance with its policy, and a positive test alone is grounds for taking administrative action. However, a urine test does not prove impairment. But that is not the focus of the policy, so your employee’s argument that he or she was not impaired is irrelevant. An employee can be completely sober but still test positive for a substance, because metabolites can be present in the urine for days or even weeks. Many people confuse the objectives of business organizations that test for drugs of abuse with those of law enforcement officials, who must be able to prove impairment if a person is arrested for drunk driving. A field sobriety test or a certain blood alcohol level establishes the legal existence of this impairment.

Supervisor Avoidance of Performance Issues Only Make Them Worse

Q. My employee apologizes constantly for her inadequate performance. I know she is sincere, but I feel a bit guilty putting pressure on her and taking some action that could cause her to lose her job. She won’t go to the EAP. I feel torn. I am more frustrated with myself than with her!

A. Your employee may indeed be sincere, but she is not a satisfactory performer. When she apologizes without correcting her performance, she effectively avoids disciplinary action you are unwilling to take. Until now, you have been manipulated to avoid taking stronger measures to correct her performance. But remember, discipline is not punishment; It is a tool for correcting performance. Your own performance is suffering because you are not managing this situation properly. What’s more, if her problems are chronic, eventually the current performance issue will get worse. This could lead to a crisis you want to avoid. Consider this: By not acting more decisively, you have enabled her problems to grow worse. Not all employees are defensive when confronted. Some simply agree with you and but not feel motivated enough to change. Consult with the EAP about your indecisiveness. The EAP won’t tell you to take disciplinary action or suggest what that action should be, but it will help you with personal issues that keep you avoidant and indecisive. 

Dealing with an Employee's DUI and Court-Mandated Training

Q. My employee participated in a court-mandated driver education course related to alcohol and drug use after a recent DUI arrest. The court did not refer him to treatment, and I disagree with that decision. I think he’s an alcoholic, because frankly, I am recovering myself. Can I involve the EAP?

A. If your employee’s job performance is satisfactory and the employer has not determined that the arrest and court referral constitute a business concern (i.e., “conduct unbecoming of our employees”), then you don’t have a basis for a formal supervisor referral. You do know about the DUI, however, and that an assessment of alcoholism was not made by the court. How did you come by this information? Did the employee volunteer it? If so, suggesting a self-referral to the EAP as a source of help and assessment is appropriate. Regarding your status as a recovering alcoholic, be cautious. There is nothing wrong with sharing personal information, but don’t diagnose your employee or engage in a diagnostic discussion. Realize that the crisis has passed, and the pursuit of treatment for alcoholism is usually motivated by a sense of urgency based on circumstances. You’re not likely to inspire a revelation. Still, such conversations can play a role in a future decision to enter treatment.

Why are Some Supervisors Resistant to Using the EAP?

Q. The EAP has been a wonderful service for our organization. Many employees have been helped, and it is a great resource for our supervisors. I’ve noticed not all supervisors use the EAP equally. Other than simply lack of training, why might some be resistant?

A. Although EAPs help both employees and supervisors, and protect the organization by reducing behavioral risk, some supervisors may feel that the EAP takes away something that has given their job meaning: counseling or at least advising employees about personal problems, in addition to using persuasion to inspire changes. Some supervisors possess a style that includes being a confidant, a friend, and a wise advice giver. Some supervisors are more empathetic than others and are more interested in the human experience. This is positive, but their identity may be too closely connected to how others look up to them beyond pure performance and leadership matters. The desire to play a larger role in employees’ lives can conflict with the role of supervisor and the critical link needed in facilitating referral to the EAP for troubled workers with severe problems that the supervisor is unable to resolve or possibly even identify.

The Lone Ranger Syndrome

Q. What is the “Lone Ranger Syndrome” that is sometimes used to describe supervisors and how they conduct themselves in their role?

A. The Lone Ranger Syndrome is a construct originated 50 years ago by Arthur Purvis, an EAP author and federal employee personnel specialist. It describes supervisors who take on so much responsibility for managing workers’ performance as well as their personal problems that they begin to burn out. They may feel anger, confusion, frustration, and helplessness, and their state of overwork may lead them to ineffective management practices. When EAPs first originated in the mid-1970s, it was important to recognize this construct in order to motivate supervisors to come forward and take advantage of what the EAP could offer them in the way of relief. It’s considered a classic in EAP education and training.

February 2022

It Appears Many of My Employees are Suffering from Stress

Q. The EAP gave a presentation on stress, and a few employees who attended the presentation openly stated that they planned to go visit the EAP. It was a great presentation, but I was surprised at the number of stressed workers. Should I be concerned? Should I ask the EAP how I can help? .

A.  Interest in participating in the EAP following a stress management presentation is not necessarily because of work strain as it is typically viewed. A multitude of other personal problems that your employees may initially only label as stress in public with their peers who also attended the presentation could be the reason. Saying that one is getting help for stress is less stigmatizing than admitting one is suffering with depression, couples problems, addiction, a teenager with an eating disorder, etc. Stress management training, while helpful to employees in offering insight and techniques in managing stress, has a tremendous benefit in also helping promote the EAP. It demystifies the program and encourages employees to take the next step and feel safe in using the program to resolve personal problems. There are many ways supervisors can help alleviate stress, of course. The EAP can consult with you and offer tips on what might be helpful based on the nature and circumstances of your workgroup. . .

Dealing with a Tragic Event in the Workplace

Q. If a tragedy occurs in the workplace and employees are emotionally affected, what signs and symptoms should I look for later (following any counseling and “psychological first-aid” employees receive) so I can be supportive and encourage self-referral to the EAP?

A.  An acute stress response is normal during and immediately following a tragic and frightening event at work. The best intervention after any initial support given to employees is education about the signs and symptoms that could later constitute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Signs and symptoms of PTSD may not be easily noticed by you. They may include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the event; mental or physical distress in response to trauma-related cues; efforts to avoid trauma-related situations; and an increased fight-or-flight response, especially to events that are similar to or trigger memories of the tragic event. These symptoms could produce secondary effects that you might observe, including job performance issues, attendance problems, or behavioral struggles on the job. If you observe such effects, you can then discuss your observations (not your diagnostic impressions) and suggest the EAP.

Is a Messy Desk a Sign of Bad Management?

Q. People criticize my messy desk. It’s quite a joke with the office. I don’t feel that I am bullied, and I haven’t been lectured by management or experienced any adverse actions, but am I a bad manager because my desk is messy and looks completely disorganized?

A.  The effects of a disheveled desk on productivity and the work climate are what would concern your management. Either these issues aren’t a problem or your manager has not been willing to confront you about them yet. Being disorganized is a trait commonly observed in ineffectual managers. At the very least, it does not demonstrate good role modeling. Do you forget details, lose things, show up to meeting with missing documents, or miss meetings altogether? If so, a messy desk may be a symptom of a larger problem. Meet with the EAP to discuss the disorganization, which may lead to insights as to causes and what you can do about it. The teasing and reactions you receive from others may bother you more than you are willing to admit. If so, you may find motivation at the EAP to make changes so you can benefit from a more organized workspace.

Personal Knowledge Does Not Change EAP Privacy Standards

Q. Q. I have known my employee for many years and am quite familiar with her personal problems. Does this create an exception in terms of not being given more specific information about the nature of her issues discussed at the EAP?

A.  Typically, EAPs share very little information with a signed consent to release confidential information. This protects employees from the possibility of improper and reckless disclosures of confidential information, and in turn helps underscore and ensure the confidential nature of the EAP. Information that the EAP can share with managers, with an employee’s signed release, includes acknowledgment of participation, cooperation with EAP recommendations, and accommodations for a manager to consider in supporting the employee’s functional capacity and limitations. Historically, managers don’t need any additional information to successfully manage their employees’ performance. Your employee is free to share information with you directly about treatment or medical recommendations, but it would be improper for the EAP to communicate with you about these things because there is no clinical or performance-management justification. This may be difficult to accept after having played a significant role in supporting your employee up to this point, but you can still do that by being a manager who stays focused on performance.

EAP Participation May Not be Revealed to Manager

Q. Can I phone the EAP to find out if an employee I suggested attend the program showed? More specifically, if the employee was in fact never seen, can the EAP say so?

A.  TMost EAPs will state that they can neither confirm nor deny participation in the program, and this answer is the best one to help protect employee clients and the program’s perception of confidentiality among the workforce. Whether or not the employee is an EAP attendee does not interfere with, prevent, or amend any administrative actions you need to take or consider in response to the worker’s performance, because the EAP is not a “safe harbor.” This is consistent with EAP policies. Conceivably, employees could tell you they are participating in the EAP when they are not, but you should still make decisions based on what is observable, measurable, and consistent with employees’ performance.

January 2022

Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

Q. Is it appropriate for a supervisor to raise mental health issues with employees, such as pointing out that an employee “looks stressed out”? This might prompt employees to consider using the EAP.

A.  Although it is not uncommon for a manager to use phrases such as “you look a little stressed out,” those might be misinterpreted by your employee. So, why not consider a different question with a business purpose, such as “you appear rushed and are fumbling with your work. Is there something I can do to help? Is everything all right?” This can lead the employee to mention something personal, in which case you can respond by recommending the EAP as a resource. Mental health in the workplace has received much attention in business news recently. This does not mean that supervisors should probe mental health issues or become diagnosticians. Continue to focus on performance issues that don’t resolve. You will ultimately refer employees with personal problems earlier and more often. .

How to Gain Assertiveness

Q. I have always struggled with being assertive. As a new supervisor, I can imagine some problems this might cause. Are there any problems outside my awareness that I should be careful to avoid?

A.  Supervisors who struggle with assertiveness often fear saying no. Rather than state unequivocally to their employees that something won’t happen or can’t happen, and risk disappointment or anger, they may give the impression that there is hope or that they will “look into it.” Whether it is about a pay raise or some other question, they give employees the expectation of an affirmative outcome. For the supervisor, the goal at the time is avoiding anger or conflict with workers. Their strategy is to “wait and see” with a middle-of-the-road approach. Later, when the thing hoped for does not materialize, anger and accusations of broken promises occur. Trust is lost among staff. Unassertive supervisors often know they are setting themselves up for these conflicts, but the need to avoid conflict in the moment overrides their better judgment at the time. If you struggle with this level of assertiveness, contact the EAP. .

EAP vs Peer Counseling

Q. My employee made a group of coworkers aware of communication problems she was having with her husband. One employee gave her the name and phone of a marriage counselor. I was a little uncomfortable with this process. Should I have discouraged this exchange and recommended the EAP instead?

A.  It is not unusual for employees to recommend resources to each other for dealing with problems, but the EAP would have been a better recommendation. EAPs don’t do marital counseling per se because this is treatment/therapy, but they do start with an assessment that is free and unbiased. The goal of this assessment is to determine precisely the nature of the problem the employee is experiencing. Imagine the broad spectrum of issues that might exist in any situation like this one. Is this simply about communication problems or something more? Financial problems, drug and alcohol issues or other addictions, sexual issues, depression, or even an extramarital affair might be characterized in a group setting as “communication problems.” Indeed, most therapists discover deeper and more maladaptive concerns within a couple once therapy begins. Go ahead and recommend the EAP, even now. It is possible that she did not follow through with her friend’s recommendation. Share with her the nature of what a free and professional assessment can accomplish.

The Cost of Misconduct in the Workplace

Q. Q. What are the costs of misconduct in the workplace, and what are the dominant behaviors constituting misconduct?

A.  There are many areas of misconduct, but the three that drive costs are discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying. A recent study by Vault found that the cost of workplace misconduct nationally is about $20.2 billion per year. When an employee leaves an organization because of these behaviors, the cost to hire a new worker averages $4126. And that is a low average, because this cost estimator from the Society of Human Resource Management is several years old and does not include many indirect costs. The latest report on misconduct in the workplace can be found at short form appears before you can download the 16-page document). Among the findings, of women who have experienced sexual harassment, only one in five reports it despite today’s education, policies, and legal remedies. Fear of retaliation and impact on one’s career still drive the hesitancy to report victimization.

Accepting EAP Counseling vs Alternative Source of Help

Q. Over the years, I have noticed that the most difficult and troubled employees also offer the most resistance to supervisor referral to the EAP. A few have actually agreed to go to counseling, but not to the EAP. Why is it important to not accept the employee’s alternative source of help?

A.  The EAP plays a key role in reducing risk to organizations regarding formal referrals. It is not unusual for difficult employees to resist referral and offer their own “solution” at a corrective interview. However, serious risks may continue without EAP involvement. These risks aren’t dispelled even if the employee goes to the same source of help the EAP would have recommended. Follow-up allows the EAP to gauge progress or lack thereof, identify waning motivation to continue in treatment, re-motivate the worker to cooperate with the provider’s recommendation, identify additional help, or monitor post-treatment recommendations crucial to success. Imagine an employee with an intermittent explosive disorder, who is prone to violence, agreeing to get help but not going through the EAP. Accepting help is a good thing in such a case, but the risks mentioned above certainly remain.

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