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.

April 2018

When an Employees Uses Self-referral

Q. The EAP phoned to say my employee was a self-referral but wanted to sign a release so I could learn of his participation. Nothing else was permitted. I am glad he self-referred because I was considering a formal referral for attendance issues. Should I still make one?
A. You could still make a formal supervisor referral, but you can also wait to see if the attendance issues clear up. Consider letting the EAP know about attendance issues, however. The release signed by your employee is obviously limited, so do not expect follow-up reports, etc. Note that the release may be rescinded at any time, leaving the EAP without the ability to communicate with you. It will not be able to acknowledge follow-through with recommendations or share status of participation. Still, none of this will interfere with your ability to manage performance. If attendance issues continue, decide whether to initiate a formal supervisor referral, in which you can request more structured communication (but not clinical information) or take corrective action, as you and your advisers deem appropriate. 

Can Rude Behavior in the Work Place Impact Productivity?

Q.  I read that rude behavior at work is getting worse. Is this overblown? Haven’t employees always shown a bit of rudeness periodically? What can supervisors do, and is there a role for the EAP helping overcome this sort of problem?
A. Rude behavior is incivility at work, a topic that has received increased attention because surveys show it has grown worse. Approximately twice as many employees complain about rudeness today than they did 20 years ago. One poll showed that nearly half of employees intentionally decreased their work effort in response to rudeness, intentionally decreased time spent at work, intentionally decreased quality of work, lost time worrying about and stewing over incidents, avoided the rude person, and admitted declines in commitment to the organization. Twenty-five percent said they took out their frustrations on customers! Obviously, rudeness takes a toll on the bottom line. A positive workplace that reduces rudeness is not an accident. A strategic approach that includes education, awareness, and proactive and supportive policies, like those that address other organizational risks, is worth considering. And, of course, EAP referral when needed is appropriate. Start with a sit-down assessment with your EAP to design a customized approach that fits with your work culture. Learn more:

Is the EAP for Productivity or a Counseling Agency?

Q. I think of the EAP as a productivity program rather than a counseling office, and I convey this viewpoint to employees. It distinguishes the program from a mental health service, which most people are familiar with. Can this view reduce stigma?

A. Your view of EAP is consistent with the business rationale for such programs and with that usually mentioned in policies that establish them. Such a viewpoint may increase the number of employees seen for personal problems, especially among troubled workers, some of whom pose greater risk to the organization. Direct appeal to reduce the stigma of seeking help for personal problems, however, is also part of the solution to maximize utilization and impact. So a balance of viewpoints is ideal. If employees only view the EAP as a “counseling office” for “personal problems,” the stigma of seeking help can reduce motivation to participate. However, if the added focus on productivity improvement and work quality is well-promoted, these factors will work synergistically for the benefit of all. 

Are You  "Phubbing" During Meetings?

Q. I recently stopped paying attention to my phone in meetings with employees, after one of them called me on the carpet for checking it while in meetings. It’s a bad habit, I know! I actually sense the anxiety of not checking it. I’m amazed. Can the EAP help?

A. Behavior you are describing is referred to as “boss phone snubbing” in one research study, and it is also known as “phubbing” (phone + snubbing). Anyone can be guilty of this off-putting behavior and earn the ire of meeting participants, but when bosses do it, their status and authority, and the power of being a role model others want to admire, can have an especially negative impact on subordinates. Research on this topic discovered that supervisors who cannot resist looking repeatedly at their smartphones while meeting with employees risk losing their employees’ trust. The productivity cost is loss of engagement. Smartphone addiction is not a recognized disorder, at least not yet, but the problem can create distress. Consider whether your use of a smartphone causes problems but, despite your best efforts, you can’t stop. If that is true, contact the EAP. Check out this less-than-scientific, but humorous quiz on smartphone addiction: (search “smartphone”). It is at least a good awareness builder. Also, see the study: (search “boss phone snub”).

Can EAP Help Me With the Decision-Making Process?

Q. I should be more decisive, but I like to seek the opinions of my team. Secretly, I fear being wrong, so gathering opinions is a way to procrastinate with some of these tougher calls. How can I develop better, faster, and more confident decisions-making skills?

A. There are many reasons people hesitate to make decisions. Fear of being wrong is one, but what drives this fear? This question is one the EAP can help you understand more clearly. You must make decisions, of course, so your anxiety translates into stalling techniques with the information-seeking, which is a legitimate and responsible step that covers for your hesitancy. You are using it as a crutch. The rest of the problem about making decisions—the mechanics of the process—can be found in hundreds of resources. In your journey of discovery, examine whether any of these decision-killers affect you: 1) perfectionism (it slows progress), 2) fear of disapproval, and 3) over-analyzing. Great decision makers have a history of overcoming mistakes. It is these mistakes that turn them into leaders who can trust their gut—an art that gets better over time. This is your goal: to be a great gut-level decision maker who is often right, but not perfect. 

March 2018

Workplace Shootings -- Who is at Greastest Risk?

Q. We hear about mass shootings in schools and in the workplace. It’s frightening. I read that hundreds of employees are shot in the workplace each year. What are the latest statistics, and which employees are most at risk? What can supervisors do? How can EAP help?
A. About 450 homicides occur in the workplace each year in the U.S., and about 85% of these are shootings. An equal number of victims are also shot, but survive. The latest government statistics (2015) show that first-line supervisors of retail employees are at the highest risk of getting shot. Next are cashiers, followed by law enforcement officers, and then taxi drivers. Robbery is the most common reason for shootings. Men are five times more likely than women to be a victim of a shooting, but women are 10 times more likely to get shot when the assailant is a domestic partner, lover, or acquaintance. Domestic violence victimization is one circumstance sometimes shared or known by others at work. It is therefore crucial to refer these victims of abuse and violence to the EAP, and not become a private confidant. Only a proper assessment will offer the best chance of identifying the level of risk that might exist, and what to do next about it. 

Self-referred Employees Often Complain About Supervisors.  Its okay!

Q.  EAPs see self-referred employees for any type of personal problem. If the problem is primarily about the supervisor, however, will the EAP urge the employee to sign a release so the other side of the story can be obtained from the supervisor?
A. EAPs work with the information provided by employees to guide them toward a workable solution. Complaints about supervisors are common, but EAPs do not need “the other side of the story” from the supervisor to help employees navigate their way to a better relationship. If such information is needed, the employee can supply it or the EAP can request it. You may feel uncomfortable imagining your employees at the EAP office talking about you, but you should understand that EAPs are hosted by organizations. This means EAPs seek healthful and productive resolutions that benefit employees in their roles as workers without dismissing the primacy of the organization or undermining your role or position.

Anxiety is Impairing Employee's Job Performance

Q. I have an employee who is a very nervous person. He worries about making a mistake around me, and his hands tremble. I am reassuring, but it’s not helping. Should I make a formal referral to the EAP or encourage a self-referral? Is this an anxiety disorder?

A. Your employee’s nervousness affects communication, interferes with the relationship between you, increases his risk of making mistakes and getting injured on the job, and may ultimately cause him to quit. His issues are interfering with his job satisfaction, which is also important. These documentable issues justify a formal referral. Your employee may respond to an encouraged self-referral, but why wait? There is nothing improper about making a formal referral now that will allow you to communicate with the EAP and help him. The employee’s problem is likely some condition related to anxiety, but many things could conceivably cause the behavior you are seeing.

Self-Referrals for Alcoholism

Q. Do employees self-refer to EAPs for help with alcoholism, or is this the type of personal problem that will ultimately require a formal referral because of denial?

A. Self-referrals do occur, but they typically result from drinking-related incidents, not simply the awareness of alcoholism. Like other illnesses with behavioral aspects to them, enabling and denial act as forces making self-diagnosis difficult. A DUI, the fear of divorce, or a “close call,” among other situations, may motivate self-referrals. Alcoholics are seeking help for their “drinking problem,” even in these circumstances—they hope to regain control over their drinking. They often have ruled out the possibility of alcoholism based on their own unique definition, which excludes them. This is where expertise is crucial in the assessment process. The EA professional may have only one shot at helping these employees understand the nature of what they are dealing with and motivating them to take the next step. The client must be sold on the benefits—the promises of recovery—that result from proper treatment. Some clients are ready for this message, while others are not. The window of motivation is short. The good news is that the predictability of future crises almost guarantees them another chance to hear the message and accept help.

Should Supervisors Share Personal Information?

Q. I think supervisors who share information about their lives, personal foibles, and the real problems they face at home and at work are less mysterious. Does this help elicit more cooperation from troubled workers and motivate them to feel closer and perform better?

A. Demonstrating vulnerability will tend to improve relationships in your personal life, but it can undermine your supervisory role in correcting worker performance. The reasons are not mysterious. The employment setting operates with a different set of dynamics than your personal life. Because a paycheck passes downward in an organization to employees and a hierarchy exists to ensure productivity and workflow, there are natural differences in status that exist between workers and those who supervise them. With their higher status, supervisors possess influence and leverage that allow them the power to correct problems, guide employees, judge performance, and discipline and reward workers. But these forces can be undermined. One way to do that is to convince employees that you and they are equal in status. Self-disclosure (being too close and personal) produces this result. If you are perceived as a friend rather than a boss, your employees lose the sense of urgency needed to work under your direction. Coaxing and pleading become faulty tools of persuasion. The same dynamic occurs when parents forgo discipline to become friends with their children.


February 2018

Tips for Supervisors Receiving Sexual Harassment Complaints

Q. We have conducted sexual harassment prevention training for employees and supervisors. I know a channel for bringing complaints forward is also crucial. Can you discuss that, and in particular, precautionary tips for the supervisor who receives such complaints.
A. Although education is an important prevention measure, another piece of the “prevention/intervention pie” is reinforcement of a complaint procedure so employees understand it and are encouraged to use it. You want to know when employees are being discriminated against, being harassed, or facing other problems like bullying on the job. Periodically remind employees about the complaint procedure, and if you are a supervisor, be careful not to minimize or ignore complaints brought to you by employees. It is easy to ignore indirect complaints, “slight mentions,” and passing comments about problems from victims or third parties. No matter how it is couched, minimized, or diplomatically described to you, treat a complaint as a complaint. Anything less may cause you to overlook victimization. Do not treat harassment complaints as “personality conflicts” in need of some sort of coaching or mediation. Steps like these taken by supervisors that minimize or “define problems down” place organizations at risk of later legal claims that you knew or should have known about the harassing behavior, but did nothing about it.

Dealing with Negativity in an Employee

Q. How do I coach an employee with a negative attitude? Until now, I have ignored or avoided this employee. Should I continue this approach and coach others to do the same, or intervene? If I intervene, what steps can I use before finally referring to the EAP?
A. Negativity is an attitude issue within the definition of job performance. Other factors include quality of work, quantity of work, attendance, appearance, behavior, and availability. Meet with your employee and discuss the negativity. Share examples so there is no dispute over what you observe. Negative attitudes can stem from many causes. Some are benign, but off-putting, like a cynical sense of humor. Others are more serious, like major complaints about the organization or supervisor or dislike of one’s job. Your conversation will probably yield a good explanation for the negativity, because most employees are aware of their personality issues gained from past confrontations or relationship struggles with others. Ask your employee how your relationship with him or her can facilitate a more positive disposition. Do not tell others to cope better with negativity. Negativity has a contagious influence, so refer to the EAP rather than risk morale problems.

How to Inspire an Employee to Reach for That Next Level

Q. Is there a way to not just motivate employees to do their job but also have them really go to the next level and become excited and proactive about their role and the company’s mission? Or is it just pure luck if you get an employee who can motivate him- or herself like this?

A. Some employees do motivate themselves because they know the value of being energized. They’ve learned that love of the job comes by engaging the organization, understanding their role and its importance, and seeing all the possibilities before them. Other employees must be inspired and shown what lies over the mountaintop. Your ability to inspire this latter group is a critical skill that can reduce turnover and attitude problems and boost productivity. To inspire employees, spend time with them and demonstrate your own enthusiasm so they can see it. They will be compelled to model it. Help them get clear about their role and your performance expectations. (A common complaint heard by EAPs from employees is a lack of understanding of what the supervisor wants from them.) Help employees understand the company’s strategic plan and direction, their role in it, and the value of their work product or services. Always let employees have some say in what they would like to accomplish, and set goals, evaluate, and give feedback toward that end during the year.

Resignation vs. Resolution

Q. Is it ever appropriate to encourage employees to quit their job versus referring them to the EAP? I think some employees would do better with another employer and would be happier and healthier as a result.

A. Employee assistance programs are in the business of helping employees resolve personal problems that may affect job performance, so it would never be advisable to encourage an employee to quit as a solution to his or her personal issues if the EAP has not been afforded the opportunity to help the employee. It would be improper for the EAP to endorse or discourage disciplinary or administrative actions, but certainly the EAP referral should be attempted early in the process of this situation you describe. If you have not done so, refer now. The EAP can then help the employee make the best decision based upon all the issues discovered in the assessment interview.

Resolving Attendance Issues with EAP

Q. A couple of weeks ago, I met with my employee to discuss attendance issues and make a referral to the EAP. The EAP referral was rejected, but surprisingly, attendance has been perfect ever since. Should I tell the EAP about this meeting?

A. Although this meeting was two weeks ago, let the EAP know about it. Inform your employee you have done so. Encourage use of the program once more. There are a few reasons for doing this. (1) The EA professional may offer guidance to you on managing your employee’s attendance issues. (2) Your employee’s knowledge of your contact with the EAP may facilitate changing his or her mind, and information you supplied will allow a more complete assessment. (3) Your employee may have attendance issues in the near future and realize help is needed, thereby self-referring in a crisis. (4) The EAP would encourage and educate the employee about the value of signing a release. 

January 2018

I Am Afraid to Fire my Employee

Q. I have an employee who gets into fights with customers. He’s had run-ins with coworkers, DUIs, and scrapes with the law. He’s a classic hothead. I want to fire him, but I fear violent retaliation. Can the EAP help or tell me what to do?
A.  Your employee has persistent and severe conduct problems. Therefore, a management referral to the EAP is appropriate. You could wait and see whether the EAP can help the employee change his behavior, but you should discuss the postponement of dismissal with your management advisers. The EAP can’t participate in administrative decisions. Always consult with management resources and advisers when you fear for your safety. If you refer him to the EAP, you may wish to view it as an accommodation to help the employee deal with his problems. The EAP will assess anger issues, use of alcohol, and other risk issues. A release will keep you apprised of participation and cooperation with program recommendations. Note that you always should refer employees to an EAP at the earliest sign of persistent conduct issues. This affords a better opportunity to intervene with chronic employee behavioral problems, which often grow worse.


Can EAP Assist With Employees' Bad Attitude?

Q. My employee’s work is good, and frankly, he is my best mechanic. There is nothing to document regarding performance, but he has a bad attitude with his lack of humor, gruff style, isolation, and cynicism; he does not mesh well with us. Can the EAP help? &
A. Yes, the EAP can help. You do have job performance issues that you can document and upon which you can base a referral. It’s attitude at work. Attitude can be described in a way that makes it measurable. The EAP can consult with you on useful language to consider in documentation, and it will do so with you confidentially. Useful language is critical because your organization may need such memos in the future to support performance management decisions. The task is to describe the manner in which your employee conducts himself, the disposition and temperament he displays, and most important, the impact on others. This is key to effective documentation—describing the harm or cost to the organization in lost productivity, lower morale, conflict, lost team cohesion, etc.

How Can I Determine if My Employee Has an Anxiety Disorder?

Q. I recently read that anxiety is common among workers of all ages, especially younger workers. What performance or workplace symptoms would indicate an employee suffers with an anxiety disorder? &
A. Looking for mental health symptoms is not an efficient way of identifying troubled employees from a management perspective. Focusing on performance standards you want improved and then considering a referral to the EAP when they do not get better is the way to go. Are you puzzled by an employee who turned down a promotion for the third time? What about an employee who always avoids the annual holiday party? These employees may be exhibiting symptoms of two quite different forms of anxiety—or they may not be symptoms of anxiety at all. There is a wide spectrum of anxiety disorders. Everyone experiences some anxiety from time to time, but many with severe forms of anxiety may perform in a superior fashion.

My Company Wants to Put Veterans in the Workplace

Q. We are pushing this year to hire more veterans. It’s the right thing to do, and we believe it will be a win-win. What are some of the key issues we should keep in mind after we begin hiring?
A. Be proactive and communicate effectively with veterans. Surveys of vets who are employed in the civilian workforce find that most think their unique skills—ones that would directly help the employer—aren’t fully or effectively used. So, when supervising vets, dialogue with them about their ideas, skills, and potential. Put them to the test. Vets are trained in taking or giving directions and then performing to their maximum ability. They are not necessarily conditioned to play the devil’s advocate, question authority, hold brainstorming sessions, or delve into discussions about how employees feel. These participatory workplace behaviors of the modern era may require more prompting to pull vets into them. If you are hiring vets, consider the special report released last year that will aid you in maximizing your effectiveness in working with vets. It’s called “Mission Critical: Unlocking the Value of Veterans in the Workforce.” Find it at online bookstores. Don’t forget to make the EAP available and have its message communicated to family members and spouses. These persons can help reach vets if personal problems arise.

Best Practices for Managing Employees With an EAP Referral.

Q. After making a formal supervisor referral to the EAP, why is further communication about participation and cooperation necessary from the EAP? My concern is change or improved job performance. I either see it or I don’t. 
A. Communicating with the supervisor following a formal referral for performance problems represents best practice for EAPs in managing troubled workers. It recognizes that employees are motivated, in part, to follow through because of concern over their job security. Eliminating this dynamic reduces accountability and invites a loss of urgency on the part of the EAP client. An EAP does not equate to a counseling service. It is a programmatic approach to managing troubled workers whose performance issues may be caused by personal problems. The two approaches are radically different helping systems. The former is entirely apart from the workplace or any other system. An EAP, on the other hand, exists because of its primary business purpose, which is helping the workforce remain happy, healthy, and productive. Part of this must be motivating the most difficult and most troubled workers to follow through with its recommendations.