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.

December 2017

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Q. What role can supervisors play in helping prevent sexual harassment? Please address modeling and work culture.
A.   Supervisors represent employers and possess authority, so what you say and do is viewed as a standard of behavior, and may be directly modeled by workers under your supervision. In this sense, the actions are “amplified.” Given this dynamic, not addressing inappropriate behavior when you witness it indirectly gives permission for it to be repeated. Your employees will take notice of what you say and what you don’t say, and what you do and what you don’t do, in determining how they should behave at work. Think back about past employers during your career. Was sexual harassment more likely to occur with some rather than others? Where harassment was less likely to occur, it was possible an institutional mindset existed to help communicate the unacceptability of such behavior. This is a top-down phenomenon reinforced by supervisors. This is part of your job — creating and nurturing an institutional mindset for a psychologically safe workplace and an environment less predisposed to behavior that could be considered sexual harassment. When you correct someone’s behavior, be sure to also say to employees that the “type of behavior being discussed is not appreciated in this workplace.”

Assisting Employees in Getting the Best Support Possible from EAP

Q.   Can you discuss what supervisors accidentally or unwittingly do when referring employees to the EAP that undermines employee participation, or inhibits employees from actually going to or taking advantage of the program?
A. Common mistakes supervisors make when referring employees to the EAP that undermine the EAP’s ability to help employees include: 1) Not communicating to the employee that the EAP is confidential and that the supervisor is not going to receive personal information about the employee from the EAP. 2) Not displaying a positive attitude about the EAP and its capabilities at the time of referral that “market” its benefits. 3) Failing to provide information in writing to the EAP about performance issues discussed with the employee. (Absent this documentation, the employee commonly brings a different agenda to the EAP, or disagrees with performance issues paraphrased by the EAP as he or she understands them.) 4) Not completing the communication loop to discover whether the employee made it to the appointment, if the EAP does not phone to confirm it as expected.

The Value of EAP Follow-ups

Q.  My employee periodically visits the EAP, but this has been going on for a year. I thought EAPs are short-term assessments?
A. The EAP may meet with employees periodically to discuss their progress in treatment or counseling, or to evaluate how well they are following through with other recommendations. Recovery from certain illnesses like alcoholism takes work, lots of dedication to a recovery program, and support with overcoming challenges, stressors, and life events that can precipitate relapse. Periodic meetings with EAP clients are typically on an as-needed basis with those who may be considered more at-risk for recurring problems related to job performance or issues originally addressed in the first appointment. An employee who is not following through with a doctor or community treatment program’s recommendation may be asked by the EAP to come to an appointment to better understand difficulties the employee may be having with attendance, participation, or cooperation with the provider.

Resolving Performance Issues

Q. I am feeling guilty because we dismissed an employee for performance issues. I did not refer him to the EAP. Assuming he had no personal problems, what else could I have done to help him resolve his performance issues?
A. When you work with an employee’s performance issues, have several very short meetings, perhaps 20 minutes or so, during the year, in which you discuss the standards of performance you require. Share notes and examine parameters such as quality of work, quantity of work, attendance and availability, responsibility and dependability, use of time, cooperation, initiative, personal appearance, ability to accept feedback (constructive criticism), and appearance. Agree on what constitutes outstanding performance (what it actually looks like on each essential element chosen). Also determine what constitutes above average, standard, below standard, and unsatisfactory. At each meeting, discuss where the employee believes he or she falls within these ranges for each item. Also discuss what is needed to reach the next level. This engagement supplies urgency and motivation for most employees to keep their performance improvement top of mind. Without short-term, periodic discussions that are quantifiable, as described, the likelihood of performance deteriorating further is higher. Refer the employee to the EAP at any point, but encourage a self-referral at the very beginning.

Heroin Addiction in the Workplace

Q. A key manager was dismissed for attendance problems, but historically had a stellar record for 31 years. I heard he was addicted to heroin. He’s retired now, and he is collecting a pension. What could possibly have led to the problems he had, and his loss as a valuable worker?
A. Despite stereotypes of heroin addicts being disheveled street people, users of this drug have a wide variety of appearances and use patterns. Many are stable addicts as long as their supply is “predictable.” Some smoke heroin, some shoot it up, and others snort it, but all are dependent and gripped by the drug. Heroin fluctuates in its purity, the contaminants mixed with it, and the unpredictability of its effects. Disruptions in heroin production overseas can influence the problems that addicts experience. Heroin use for some employees is like managing insulin. As long as they know what they need and when they need it, and have a place to use it, such employees can work virtually undetected. Intermittent crises and close calls, along with risk of illness, infection, or death are always possible. Absences from work may be sudden and inexplicable. The ability to collect a fixed income—in this case retirement—can be an incentive to quit or lose a job and continue active use. Unfortunately, the life span of actively using addicts on pensions is not predictably long.

November 2017

Self-Referral Among Police Officers

Q. Lately, we have been discussing police stress in our organization. I would like to see more officers self-refer and take advantage of the EAP for personal problem, but they resist. Do officers avoid self-referral because of fear that it will make them appear weak?
A.   It is a myth that police officers do not visit EAPs via self-referral. Many journal articles discuss police stress and avoidance of asking for help over concern for how this is perceived by others. However, experience shows that a decision to self-referral is more closely aligned with safety and willingness to be vulnerable. This is influenced by perceived competence of the EA professional, program capability, confidentiality, and convenience. Motivation to use an EAP depends on assurances of confidentiality, of course, but this must be communicated strategically in numerous ways that create a solid perception of believability. Word-of-mouth promotion is essential, but this can only be influenced and aided by factors such as clearly written and frequently promoted assurances of confidentiality. Other factors include visibility, tenure, and familiarity with the employee assistance professional likely to meet with officers, physical location, counseling times, and ability to visit the program at convenient times in civilian clothes. Critical for management is strict adherence to the nondisclosure of information associated with a signed release. The above are interlocking pieces. Examining and nurturing each allows an EAP to maximize utilization and reduce skepticism.

Types of Harassment and How to Identify It

Q.   Sexual harassment prevention has been in the news lately. But I do not know anything about other types of harassment. What other sorts of issues associated with harassment and unwanted behavior should supervisors be aware of so we can confront these issues early?
A. Behavior that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people is considered harassment. Characteristically, it is unwanted. So, notice and do not tolerate unwelcome or offensive conduct. Harassment can be illegal when it is based on sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy, and gender identity), race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, and/or even genetic information. Do you see behavior that can be considered detrimental to an employee’s work performance, professional advancement, and/or mental health? Examples include offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name-calling, undue attention, physical assaults or threats, unwelcome touching or contact, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, constant or unwelcome questions about an individual’s identity, and offensive objects or pictures. Consult with your manager and/or HR adviser for clarification on matters concerning harassment. Referring employees to the EAP who participate in these behaviors, and documenting corrective actions, are crucial.

Stress in First Responders

Q.  I oversee EMTs and firefighters. Many of them deny being under any stress. Is it a waste of time to have them attend a stress management class? Will they learn anything? I inquired, but most of them seemed to indicate no interest in a class or were noncommittal.
A. It seems there are two issues common among these employees where a duty to serve requires a selfless commitment to others and a willingness to place others’ well-being ahead of their own. It’s this: recognizing stress and acknowledging it. With the EAP’s help, educate employees about stress, anyway. Include what stress is, how it works, how it harms, how to manage it, and symptoms associated with ongoing stress when it is ignored and the physiologic response of the body when it becomes chronic. They will mostly likely listen despite how it appears. Even if they do not, you’ve done the right thing.

Engaging Your Employees

Q. This year, I am on a mission to get my employees more engaged. If I do this right, what are the top benefits I am likely to see? Also, can the EAP help me with this project? It’s not about counseling employees, but perhaps the EAP’s “people knowledge” can assist me.
A. Yes, talk with the EAP. You will find many research reports and analytical data on this topic to guide you. You can anticipate that the most significant return on your investment of energy with this project will be employees who are willing to do more than expected, are more productive, and get along better with each other. You may also see improvement in attendance, fewer sick days, and higher morale. Hint: Research shows that you will make a big impact by listening to their opinions, being clear in what you ask and expect from them, and recognizing their contributions both privately and in front of peers.

Building Trust When Your Predecessor was Untrustworthy

Q. I was hired to replace a supervisor who left the organization. There is a history of conflict, and I need to earn trust. I can tell this won’t be easy due to past experiences. How do I get employees to trust me? Is there any role for the EAP in helping me?
A. Although your employees had experiences with the prior supervisor that created a sense of distrust, it is human nature to trust another person over fearing them. The benefits of a trusting relationship far outweigh your employees’ remaining distrustful. For now, their distrust is about self-preservation, so you have the natural urge to trust on your side. Allow trust and approachability to naturally emerge by practicing several behaviors recommended for any supervisor. Do not allow the sense of distrust to cause you to avoid your employees. Engage with your direct reports and share “small” but personal things about yourself. Your employees will make a mental note of these interactions and your willingness to be vulnerable. This demonstrates you are initiating trust with them first, which is naturally reciprocal. Beyond personal engagement, demonstrate trust in other ways by backing and supporting your employees. Take chances with their abilities and capabilities. Some of your employees may resist trusting you longer than others do. Resistance from some individuals due to past experiences and personal issues may occur. The EAP can consult with you on these issues to help you build the winning team you want.

October 2017

Confronting Unsatisfactory Employees About Their Performance

Q. How can a supervisor become less fearful of confronting an employee whose performance is unsatisfactory? I think many of us live in denial, or rationalize avoidance of this unpleasant task. We want to be leaders, but this responsibility is the most distasteful. How can the EAP help?
A.   Most supervisors temporarily get away with ignoring employees who are not performing satisfactorily. Unfortunately, however, such problems grow worse, as do the risks they present. Helping supervisors understand the chronic nature of unresolved personnel issues can create an urgency to act sooner, before a crisis makes confrontation unavoidable. Shy supervisors usually are unaware of the secondary problems associated with poor performance. Failure by employees to follow work rules and disregard for one’s professional development are examples. Supervisors’ reluctance to confront employees is often based on fear. This might be fear of being lashed out at by the employee, disliked, or labeled unfair. The reticent supervisor’s goal is to avoid an undeserved reputation as an oppressor. If this sounds familiar, contact the EAP for counseling and support, and practice some tough role plays with the EA professional. You will be astonished at how such exercises can enhance one’s fortitude to act.

Workforce Stress and Burnout

Q.   I don’t want to be the cause of my employees burning out, but there is no way I can distribute less work to them. Can you offer tips for how to balance these issues? Any hard data to back up those tips?
A. When discussing burnout, it is important to describe what the term means, given the context of the work situation. A report from the National Institute of Health in 2017 reminds us that burnout is not an official mental health diagnosis, that the definitions are drastically non-uniform across research studies, and that many symptoms included in these definitions are also associated with depression. So, who is burned out and who is not is not easy to determine. A recent Gallup survey of German workers may have discovered an answer that will help you in considering how to engage with your workers. Those who received regular praise and recognition for good work, had proper materials and equipment to deliver quality work, and felt their opinion counted had lower feelings of burnout. How much control do you have over these factors? It appears that most supervisors have a quite a bit. Source: [search: “German Workforce Stress”].

When Your Employee is a “Know-it-All”

Q.  I have an employee who behaves as if he “knows” everything. Other employees suppress their opinions around him, so I miss their input on issues that need to be resolved. The tricky part is that he really is smart, but how do I address a problem like this?
A. It is difficult for some supervisors to imagine that a very smart employee with significant skills and major contributions could also be a problem employee. This is an example of the “halo effect.” This can make it a challenge to confront an employee about conduct issues. Obviously, it takes more than intelligence to be effective in the workplace. It also takes teamwork, soft skills, and emotional intelligence — the ability to recognize others’ needs and feelings and use this information effectively. These skills appear lacking or unapplied in this instance. You can quantify the effect that your employee’s behavior, conduct, and attitude have on others. You also can observe behaviors that lead to these effects. This is all you need in order to compose the effective documentation necessary to discuss and counsel your employee. Meet with the EAP, however, for consultative help on pulling these pieces together in a way that will be effective when you sit down to discuss the issues and make changes.

Becoming a Strong Leader and the Role of EAP

Q. I am new to my leadership role. Can I learn leadership skills from a book, or is leadership too complex? Is it an art form or the product of some creative process? What role can the EAP play?
A. Much of leadership is learned from the school of “hard knocks,” but it is also an art and a science, as many books attest. Literature may increase desire and excitement for your new role, but it won’t shorten the learning curve of practical experience. Some principles that can help you shape your own style are worth hearing. Be clear with employees about what you want from them — don’t let them wonder about it. Offer a vision about what success looks like that they can grasp. Doing so will cause employees to establish standards of performance modeled after your examples. Never allow employees to think they aren’t accountable, and be liberal with praise and celebrate successes. Be consistent with your employees by not confusing them with different or muted reactions to problems and concerns. Employees will march to the rhythm you set and this will influence the work culture. Don’t let your leadership style develop accidentally. Make this a conscious process.

Manager’s Role in Avoiding Workplace Violence

Q. What’s the most important thing a manager can do to help prevent workplace violence?
A. Instructing supervisors in spotting signs and symptoms of potential violence, promoting fair work practices, and resolving conflicts are strong “to dos” in helping managers prevent workplace violence. However, the most effective overarching piece of advice is “get to know your employees.” This requires possessing or developing a natural sense of curiosity, aided by a strong belief that employees are your most valuable resource. Whether you discover employees being bullied, feeling treated unfairly, facing domestic conflict, not bonding with coworkers, suffering from depression, or even showing signs of being under the influence, a supervisor has numerous opportunities to discover smaller issues that can lead to tragedy down the road. And, of course, the EAP is always there as a resource you can encourage employees to use.

September 2017

Confronting Employees Who May Be Under The Influence While On The Job

Q. TPerhaps others won’t admit it, but I am hesitant to confront an employee who might be under the influence unless it is pretty obvious. A lot of employees drink, but if someone looks sober and is functional, that’s what matters to me. Where am I going wrong?
A.   If you are trained to identify signs and symptoms of an employee who may be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, it is crucial to follow the guidelines of your drug-free workplace policy. Employees in mid-stage alcoholism, even if their blood alcohol level is relatively high, do not necessarily appear drunk. They are, of course, still at risk for accidents and injuring others. These employees eventually discover maintenance drinking, where they consume alcohol in small amounts to maintain a blood alcohol level that prevents the agitating effects of withdrawal that are noticeable to others. When you do confront your employee, anticipate significant resistance and defensiveness because you have overlooked this problem for so long. So, talk to the EAP and request help preparing for a successful, constructive confrontation. Is your resistance to confrontation based on fear? If so, the EAP will help you overcome this resistance as well.

EAP Helped the First Time. Can it Help Again?

Q.   I referred an employee to the EAP two years ago. A lot of problems with absenteeism occurred at the time. Things have gone great since then, but suddenly, he is not coming to work. He is missing some days and is late on others. What is my next step—call EAP?
A. Speak with your employee in a corrective interview and find out why he is missing work. Refer to your documentation. Note that asking why your employee is coming late to work is not an intrusion or diagnostic query. The employee may disclose something personal, but do not attempt to engage in solutions. Leave that to the EAP. Regardless, it is your decision about how you wish to proceed. A formal referral back to the EAP may return another two or more years of great work, or based on the history, your organization may have a disciplinary action in mind. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis that weighs returning your employee to a satisfactory level of performance versus an action that would include dismissal. Sometimes the understandable frustration management feels toward relapses leads to decisions not fully in management’s own interest.

Referring an Employee Who Is Out on Medical Leave

Q.  My employee is at home recuperating from a back injury. I stay in touch by phone to communicate, offer support, and encourage him to come back. I hear from coworkers that domestic quarreling exists and that he is depressed. Can I refer him to the EAP?
A. Yes, suggest that he visit the EAP. Last year, a research study now posted at the National Institutes of Health examined 94 other studies in an attempt to discover what contributes to positive return-to-work results following a worker’s injury. More than half such injuries were back problems. Also studied were factors interfering with employees coming back to work. Among many factors, the ones that could be influenced from the workplace were return-to-work coordination and multidisciplinary interventions that include the workplace and stakeholders. One type of stakeholder is the supervisor, so your communication and support are impactful. Depression is a factor in why employees do not return to work, so encouraging your employee to visit the EAP and get support is a smart move. Domestic conflict to the extent that it interferes with wellness can also be addressed by the EAP. Source: Google “PMC5015229” to locate the research study.

What is the Role of EAP after Drug and Alcohol Treatment?

Q. When an employee is discharged from a drug and alcohol treatment program and the EAP follows up, how does the EAP help the employee in ways that the treatment program cannot?
A. Addiction treatment programs are busy, often underfunded, suffer high staff turnover, and sometimes struggle with management and philosophy inconsistencies. Because they are 24-hour businesses, they also have communication challenges between work shifts. Patient follow-up, if offered, can suffer. EAPs know about these struggles, so they closely follow employees post-treatment. They also meet with program staff and stay proactive, communicating with the treatment program to ensure communication with the patient. None of this interferes with treatment, but is instead welcomed. This activity often spots signals of potential relapse. This could be something as small as the patient going to four AA meetings one week instead of the required five. The EAP then uses motivational counseling to encourage better follow-through. Such interventions make EAPs enormously cost-beneficial, especially when relapse and loss of a worker are prevented.

When Two Employees Fight, it Affects the Whole Department

Q. I have two employees who don’t get along. It’s starting to create friction within the department. I don’t want battle lines to be drawn among the others. This is my last shot to end the problem, but how and when do I involve the EAP?
A. Personality conflicts can lead to quarrelsome relationships. They typically do not respond to classic attempts at problem-solving and negotiating like other workplace conflicts. Ending the quarrelsome pattern requires self-discipline and resolve because it has typically become habitual. The warring parties must believe management is determined to take action if the two employees do not. That’s your most important role if the pattern of behavior you are describing is long term and you unwittingly enabled it by counseling, threatening, and not following through. These problematic dyads often follow a progressive path: mini-crisis, counseling or pleading by supervisors, periods of calm, and a repeating cycle. Make employees aware that change is nonnegotiable and that you are committed to an administrative or disciplinary solution to help the employees change if they don’t make progress. This message may instill the needed sense of urgency. The EAP can assist at any point along the way.

August 2017

Employee Not Following Through With EAP Recommendations

Q. The EAP notified me that an employee I referred is not following through with its recommendations. The employee signed a release, but there are no disciplinary issues. Is there any reason to meet with the employee, even though I can’t discuss the personal problem?
A.   Yes. Sit down with your employee. Explain that you are in this meeting not to discuss any personal business related to the EAP referral, but to address the performance or conduct matter that led to the referral in the first place. Your expectation is the resolution of that problem or concern regardless of follow-through at the EAP. Let your employee know what the consequences are for a continuation of the problem, and encourage him or her to reconsider participation in the EAP along with its recommendations. Follow up and meet with your employee in the weeks ahead to reinforce any successful work performance or address any return to the performance issue. Whether you refer to the EAP again (if problems return) would be up to you, but talk with the EAP if that happens.

EAP's Role in the Workplace

Q.   We hired an employee who was recently paroled from prison after being incarcerated for a few years. Can I refer the employee to the EAP to be interviewed and assessed for any risk issues?
A. The EAP would not meet with an employee for this purpose because it is beyond the scope of EAP practice. The employee could self-refer to the EAP for any reason, of course, and you could refer the employee (like any other employee) for performance issues, but meeting with the EAP to help management better gauge the employment decision would be impermissible. Such a practice would damage the program’s ability to attract self-referrals, because it would be seen by the workforce as intimidating. Your new employee has a parole officer, and the court has a discharge plan. The court takes responsibility for a parolee’s assessment, release, and suitability for work. This often includes communication with the employer. EAPs promote their confidentiality and their reputation as a safe and helpful resource, and when this perception is eroded, risk to the organization will increase because some employees may shy away.

Is an EAP Recommendation Appropriate for a Medical Issue?

Q.  My employee is in pain when he bends over or gets out of a chair. We avoid giving additional assignments to him. This is a medical issue, so is an EAP referral appropriate? My assistant has a great arthritis doctor, and we were thinking about giving this employee the physician’s phone number.
A. There are several reasons to consider recommending that your employee visit with the EAP. These include the EAP providing help with ancillary problems associated with the condition and the workplace, relationship stress in the office, secondary problems the condition has created at home, a need for general support, pursuing ideas the employee may have to help cope with the condition at work (special accommodations, etc.), and other problems still unknown. A good medical practitioner may be needed, of course. Provide this information to the EAP, which will pass it along. The EAP will follow up, offer encouragement, connect with referral sources, and provide ongoing services to help ensure effective treatment or resolution of other problems. This is a good example of how EAPs can help employees with problems that at first glance may not appear to benefit from EAP help.

What is the Next Step After EAP Recommendation?

Q. The spouse of an employee phoned me on Sunday night to say his wife would not be at work the next day because of a car problem. It all seemed rather odd. I recommended this employee visit the EAP in the past for being absent on Mondays. What’s my next step to intervene?
A. Many employees will visit the EAP based on a supervisor’s recommendation. This usually happens for two reasons: They really have a personal problem and the prompt by the supervisor does the trick to motivate them to get help, or they don’t have much of a problem at all, but they go to the EAP because pleasing the supervisor is important to them. Employees with personal problems they would really rather control but not give up, like alcoholism, seek help because of a different set of dynamics. This last possibility may describe your employee and why your earlier recommendation was ignored. Employees with personal problems that affect job performance but offer significant “desirable benefits,” like addiction, must be motivated to accept help by the goal of avoiding something they fear. Typically, this is an effective disciplinary action. The question for the supervisor is how long to tolerate repeated performance problems before deciding upon an action that can leverage an employee’s desire to seek help.

Help, I am Exhausted, Apathetic, and Frustrated

Q. I am feeling burned out. I am exhausted, apathetic, and frustrated. Should I go to my boss first or visit the EAP for answers on how to get out of this state of mind?
A. Whether you approach your boss or the EAP is your decision, but here is how the EAP can help: 1) Assess the degree to which burnout is affecting your physical health (a medical referral may follow). 2) Identify the ways in which burnout has affected your work-life balance, with the goal of planning a return-to-wellness strategy, particularly with regard to depression. 3) Offer suggestions for intervention strategies outside of work that can help you return to a more fully functioning state of engagement with your organization. 4) Help you examine on-the-job interventions, some of which may require discussion with your boss in order to implement them. 5) Follow up with you to facilitate, monitor, and help you implement your return-to-wellness plan.

June 2017

A Manager's Role in Dealing with Fatigue

Q. I read that fatigue is an important health matter employees should monitor, and that it results from too much work and difficulty separating work and home life. Do supervisors have any role in identifying employees who are experiencing fatigue, and in getting them help?
A.   You should not diagnose employee problems or refer employees for conditions you think you have identified. Fatigue can be caused by many other medical conditions, including medications; health problems like diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and sleep disorders; and even depression. Suggest instead that employees seek self-referral to the EAP based on how they appear or what they have shared with you about their problems. This may include obvious signs and symptoms of being tired. When employees look tired, ask them how they feel, recommend they get some rest, and make it easy for them to get it. At work, you may notice the effects of fatigue on someone’s behavior even before you identify clinical symptoms of the fatigue’s effect on the body. These effects include problems with an employee’s mood or difficulties in the way the employee interacts with others, and perhaps seeing an employee appear to be asleep during work hours.

Are You a Leader or a Supervisor?

Q.   The best supervisors in my career did not just supervise; instead, they raised employees up, attracted their loyalty, and inspired their desire to be part of a cohesive and close work unit. I think this is a learned skill, not just charisma. Am I correct?
A. You are describing the qualities of a good leader. The following are a few contrasts between being a supervisor and being a leader. Instead of simply administrating, look for ways to innovate and improve systems within your work unit. Place your focus on people and developing them, rather than only paying attention to the letter of their job descriptions. Take safe risks with your employees’ abilities and talents, rather than pigeon-holing them into who should do what. This inspires trust between you and them. Think about the future of your work unit, not just what is happening from day to day. When employees complain, pay attention to their needs. Do not see making changes as giving in to demands, but rather as challenging the status quo. You have unique talents. Know what they are, and how you will elevate your work unit and organization with them. Focus on doing the right thing for your employees, rather than thinking “we can’t do it that way because it has never been done.” Stepping outside of the structure will cause you to make some mistakes, but leadership means you will lack one attribute: being perfect.

Good Supervisors Cannot be Counselors

Q.  I have always been a little resistant to referring my star performers to the EAP. Instead, I have discussed personal problems with them. This is not the right approach, but I fear the word might get out and damage their careers. Can you help me with this issue?
A. There is an important dynamic worth understanding when it comes to helping employees with their personal problems who you also supervise. This is the “dual relationship” conflict where the employment relationship interferes with your ability to play the role of a counselor or problem solver. You cannot successfully alter this dynamic. Playing both roles of boss and counselor interferes with employees’ ability to share complete information that is potentially critical to resolving their problem. You may hear only 95 percent of what’s going on, and therefore offer the wrong advice, discuss the wrong problem, or at best facilitate half-measures that make the problem worse. A better approach is to encourage your employees to phone the EAP and make their own decision. Confidentiality rules associated with EAPs are the strictest of their kind. Consider talking with the EAP about confidentiality. You’ll discover how truly safe EAPs are for employees to use.

Supporting Employees With Depression

Q. How can supervisors support employees who suffer from depression? I know at least two within my group of workers who are on medication. I don’t pry or get personally involved, but I don’t want to be completely unaware of what might be helpful to them.
A. Recognize that depression is a disease like other chronic illnesses, and that it is managed, usually with the help of a medical doctor. The patient and doctor work together to reduce symptoms in order to prevent interference with social and occupational functioning. Symptoms may lead employees to be less assertive about their needs or when discussing their thoughts, feelings, or ideas around a project or work problem. Do not misinterpret this as laziness or unprofessionalism. If your workplace is under stress, and serious changes are at hand, this can also make depression worse. Encourage all employees to be open with you about their needs and how you can support them. Remind them as appropriate to reach out to the EAP, but also hold employees to the standards reasonably expected for their positions. This can help troubled employees in general seek help sooner from the EAP, no matter what their problem might be.

Leniency is Not the Answer to Habitual Tardiness

Q. Some of my employees are college students who party on the weekends, and they come in late to work sometimes. Frankly, I am lenient because I was young once and these guys stay late when necessary to get their work done. Am I managing this issue incorrectly?
A. There are inherent risks with your approach. If your employees know you are lenient with their time, they are likely to continue with this pattern and allow it to grow worse. Another drawback is your inability to plan the workday, engage with them more effectively, and enhance your work organization. You will end up accommodating their less-than-satisfactory mental and medical state if they come to work hung over. Although intervening with alcoholism is not your job, a lack of structure will by default enable an alcoholic employee to continue abuse of the system, and you won’t have a means of measuring poor attendance, which is necessary for a referral to the EAP. Don’t enable this pattern of attendance. It will only increase risk to your organization.

May 2017

Negotiating Employee Conflict

Q. My employee says she is thinking about quitting because she can’t get along with her coworker. Should I send her (or them) to the EAP, or should I first try to resolve his problem myself? I am a little nervous about doing this right the first time. I don’t want to lose her.
A.   Managers should first attempt to resolve conflicts between employees. Here’s one approach: Ask this employee to share the history of the conflict with you, how it began, and what prompted her to come to you now. Ask what steps she has taken to resolve the conflict and why she believes they have not worked. Ask your employee about how she would like to proceed with a resolution, but anticipate making a decision to meet with both employees and play a leading role. This is important because for some employees, remaining in conflict is easier than the compromises necessary to resolve them. If you lose control of this process, change becomes optional. In this sense, employee conflicts are not solely personal problems, because they can always potentially affect the bottom line. Managers must shepherd them to a resolution. If a resolution does not appear forthcoming, involve the EAP to save time and to address hidden agendas or other unspoken issues underlying the conflict that may require ensuring confidentiality in order to properly address it.

Can EAP Help Supervisor Build Employee Relationships?

Q.   How can the EAP help me as a supervisor in developing and improving my relationships with employees?
A. The success of the supervisory role is largely dependent on the effectiveness of relationships that you have with employees. An effective relationship allows you to play an influential role in maximizing the job satisfaction and productivity of your workers. There is more to achieving these goals than most supervisors realize. EAPs have resources and counseling skills, and they understand relationship dynamics that can help. Developing and enhancing emotional intelligence is the path to success, and EAPs can consult with you on ways to improve relationships and enhance them in specific ways--determining how to motivate employees, utilize their talents better, help them feel rewarded, and listen to and understand their needs. You want employees to be honest with you, open up, share their workplace struggles and their ideas, and tell you how they can best be utilized. All of this depends on your ability to be your authentic self, open up, exercise patience, and demonstrate vulnerability. These are relationship skills that EAPs’ expertise can help you attain and develop.

Top List of Employee Complaints

Q.  II am a new supervisor. What are the top complaints of employees about supervisors? I plan to avoid all of them.

A. A national 2015 Harris Poll was conducted that asked employees this question. Read about it in the Harvard Business Review online at (search bar “top complaints”). These complaints, starting with the most frequently cited, are not recognizing employee achievements, not giving clear directions, not having time to meet with employees, refusing to talk to subordinates, taking credit for others’ ideas, not offering constructive criticism, not knowing employees’ names, refusing to talk to people on the phone or in person, and not asking about employees’ lives outside work. Keeping this list in mind, conducting a self-assessment, and working to champion all of them will produce more engaged and happier employees, reduce turnover, and play a role in helping your bottom line. The EAP can help you be a stronger performer in any of these areas where you think you fall short.

Symptoms of Internet Addiction

Q. Other than spending a lot of time online, what are the workplace signs of an employee with an Internet addiction?

A. Internet addiction is not yet recognized as a psychiatric disorder, but those who struggle with it often suffer other forms of compulsive behaviors related to Internet use, like online gambling and gaming. You may not witness compulsive use of the Internet with an employee you supervise, but you can often see and measure consequences. These serve as the basis of the supervisor’s referral of the employee to the EAP. You should anticipate an irregular cycle of improvement and a return to unsatisfactory performance as you begin to confront these problems. Compulsive use of the Internet is an insidious addiction that consumes time, which is a finite resource. This means other tasks and responsibilities must be left undone due to procrastination, purposely ignored, rescheduled, accomplished less frequently, or completely eliminated from the compulsive user’s mental to-do list. These things could include assignments, organizing an office, paying bills, filing, emptying the trash, or even personal hygiene. Note that you may never associate these problems with Internet addiction, but you can still manage a problem employee who exhibits them.

Defining Subtle Abuse or Bullying in Documentation

Q. Documenting employees who participate in subtle abuse or bullying behaviors is sometimes difficult because one can’t describe what’s being witnessed, like tone of voice, for example. In the end, it just sounds like one’s opinion!

A. You are correct. Tone of voice is difficult to describe in documentation without being subjective, which may lead to its being dismissed by management as opinion. The way around this problem is to document reactions by the victim or others to the tone of voice. These effects are visible and therefore describable and measurable. Now you have something less refutable, not based on opinion. Several of these documented situations constitute a preponderance of evidence that supports the thrust of your documentation, which makes it useful for administrative purposes.

April 2017

EAP's Role in Your Company

Q. All employees trust our EAP, so if we have an incident at work, such as a sexual harassment complaint, isn’t the EAP the best choice for doing the investigation so everyone knows it is fair?
A.   An employee assistance program would not be assigned responsibility for conducting an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint because this is a formal function and the legal obligation of management. The process itself is what defines its integrity, not the personality attributes of the investigator. Many steps and communication points are involved in such an investigation, and documentation is relied upon later to make administrative, legal, and disciplinary decisions. The perception of the EAP as a source of confidential, reliable, and safe help would be damaged if it were to play this role, and such activity would confuse employees, thereby reducing program utilization. An EAP has a specific purpose within an organization and a defined mission within its “EAP core technology,” the principles that describe it functions. Playing an investigatory role is not compatible with this purpose, and loss of the EAP’s perception as a safe and confidential resource would result.

When Home Life and Work Life Intersect

Q.   My employee’s four-year-old child is coming to work with her this week because of “some logistical problems” at home. I was permitted to make this concession. Her brother was released from prison recently and moved in with her. I am worried that a safety issue exists. What should I do?
A. It is prudent and appropriate to understand what might be going on here. Ask your employee if she is concerned about the safety of her child at home. This may alleviate your concern or suggest further steps. This is not probing or being intrusive or “getting involved.” It is a different situation because you have concern about a child’s welfare. Also, talk with the EAP so you are on record as having sought consultative help regarding this matter. Consult with your boss as well so you cover the bases. There may be no serious issues at home, but something is clearly out of the ordinary, so recommend a self-referral to the EAP. EAPs are expert motivational interviewers and have the skills and the assurances of confidentiality needed to learn more about her situation than she may be willing to tell you.

When Your Employee is Your Long-time Friend

Q.  I am a long-time friend with my employee who is a participant in the employee assistance program. Can I ask her to sign a release so the EAP can give me more information about the nature of her problems and how they are being treated?

A. You can ask, but the EAP will recommend against it. Establishing a separate information flow to you creates a relationship that is fraught with risk and assorted problems. The EA professional will offer quality guidance on your role in managing performance so your employee has the best chance of returning to the level of performance you require. Your employee is free to share information, of course, but when supervisors try to manage performance and also process personal problems, employees typically diminish their involvement in treatment recommendations due to role conflict. Why? The employee perceives you as a trusted, safe, and understanding friend, and will relate to you on this basis rather than as the employer’s representative, which is your job. Undermining this employer-employee dynamic removes a constructive force and sense of urgency that troubled employees rely upon to become motivated and stay focused on treatment.

Supervisiors Should Particpate in Conflict Resolution with Employees

Q. Should supervisors participate in conflict resolution sessions with employees, or refer these issues to the EAP? It all seems a bit intimidating.

A. Helping employees resolve differences is an important supervisory skill. Many resources for doing it exist. It is a myth that you must be formally trained to sit down with two warring workers and help them resolve differences. Find an approach that matches your work style and job setting. One effective model entails meeting with both employees together and having each explain their side of the conflict. Don’t make judgments, just listen. Next, meet each employee separately and encourage a full venting. Listen empathically. Ask for ideas about resolution. After these three meetings, you will witness a dramatic temporary diminishment of tension. This comes from venting and anticipation of change that each employee experiences. Meet together, discuss ideas—theirs and yours—and write an agreement. Follow up in a week and again in four weeks. Reinforce positive change. Consult with the EAP if needed along the way, but refer your employees to the EAP upon any reemergence of the conflict, and give a strong message of accountability and expectations for the conflict’s resolution.

Depression in the Workplace

Q. Do some employees with depression still function satisfactorily at work, but if treated, could perform even better and more happily? I have employees who appear depressed, but I can’t refer them to the EAP. Still, I bet they would benefit if they went.

A. Many depressed employees can function at work adequately, but if treated would likely experience an uptick in their social and occupational functioning. Some employees may suspect they have untreated depression, and some may not identify it at all because they have slowly adapted to its symptoms over an extended period. A crisis may bring these individuals into contact with outpatient mental health services, where the diagnosis is first identified. Depressed employees may appear slow to respond, lacking in energy, or resist engaging with others. Suggest self-referral to the EAP for obvious symptoms only (e.g., “you look really tired”). Or if work tasks cannot be accomplished satisfactorily, consider a formal EAP referral. Be careful not to adapt to the personality of a depressed worker by labeling them as lazy, quiet, unassuming, or “eccentric.” When this happens, others adapt, reduce confrontation, work around the employee, and allow the condition to linger, with unforeseeable consequences.

March 2017

Is it Grief or Leave Abuse

Q. My employee has been absent for three weeks since the death of his mother. He phones to say he is dealing with estate issues. He has an attorney and family support. He is far past the five days of funeral leave we offer. I think a leave abuse issue exists, but should I refer him to the EAP?
A.   If you have a bereavement leave policy, consult with your HR advisor regarding suspected abuse. Employees on funeral leave, responsible for managing the affairs of the deceased, may experience additional distress or suffer from grief that affects them later because they postponed self-care while attending to the needs of others. Suggesting the EAP is always a good idea for any problem. Dozens of things could explain the absence, but you can refer your employee to the EAP based on a finding of funeral leave abuse. EAPs have discovered that problems like this often are multifaceted. An employee may be grief-stricken, depressed, abusing leave, relapsing into an addiction problem, looking for another job, taking vacation, or all of these things at the same time! This is why EAPs exist—to help sort out the issues and help organizations retain valuable workers.

Employee Recovering From Meth Abuse is Drinking Alcohol

Q.   One of my employees went away to a halfway house for meth abuse treatment. He self-referred and now looks great. I am nervous because he socializes with employees after hours, and he drinks alcohol with them. Can meth users drink alcohol safely?
A. Your employee may be abstinent from meth use, and his occupational and social functioning may be dramatically improved, but alcohol use following treatment for meth addiction would be contrary to the position of nearly all medical doctors who are experts on addiction and its treatment. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction treatment requires “engagement in recovery activities.” Recovery means abstinence from psychoactive drug use, which includes alcohol, in order to avoid relapse to the drug of choice. Your job, of course, is monitoring performance and not focusing on the employee’s personal decisions outside work, no matter how ill-advised they may be. Relapse and its effect on performance may be evident in a week, a year, or more. If or when that time comes, engage the EAP.

How to Spot Exceptional Employees

Q.  I would like to identify employees who appear to have the most creativity and drive. Is there a way to easily spot these employees in a work environment that does not allow for much of either?

A. Employees with creativity and drive tend to have skills often associated with entrepreneurial thinking. Meet with your employees regularly, and talk to them about what makes them excited and what makes them feel engaged. Keep the following in mind: Do you have employees who like dreaming up new ideas? Are any employees naturally prone to spotting new business opportunities? Do any employees consistently demonstrate their ability to spin positivity out of disappointment and see the silver lining of the cloud? Do you have employees who take initiative on the job to undertake something new without being asked? Evidence of these behaviors can often be spotted even in the most controlled, uninspiring, and limited work settings. Employees who are courageous and unafraid to think outside the box will find a way to get their needs met, even if it is not in your company, so working with your managers to create opportunities is one key strategy for retaining them and reaping the benefits of their talent.

Help, My Employee Seems to be Suffering With Schizophrenia

Q. My employee came to my office the other day to say he was being followed by agents of a foreign country and he hears them talking about him. He acts sincere, but I know this is mental illness—schizophrenia, right? How do I get the EAP involved?

A. Your employee’s behaviors could be explained by mental illness, such as a type of schizophrenia, but an evaluation would be needed to learn more. Those affected by schizophrenia (about 1 percent of the population) may have their first overt episode of the illness in young adulthood or later. It may therefore be witnessed on the job, and it can be alarming to unwitting coworkers when delusions or auditory hallucinations are shared. Effective medications exist for schizophrenia, and unlike decades ago, they allow employees to function quite adequately. The risk that an employee with mental illness will become violent is overblown, but a fitness-for-duty evaluation afforded by your personnel policies is appropriate if behavior interferes with or is disruptive to the work situation. You can start by suggesting the employee visit the EAP, or consult with the EAP about the steps to take.

We All Get Along; Why Do We Need Diversity Training?

Q. We have a diverse work group of about 50 employees, and it is obvious to me that everyone gets along well. I never get complaints, and I witness no inappropriate interactions. Is diversity awareness education or training still needed?

A. Diversity and inclusiveness awareness can be suitable for any workgroup, not necessarily because of existing problems but to reinforce and strengthen a positive work culture that already exists. Think “preventive maintenance.” Remember, if you have 50 employees, turnover is a natural part of the organizational process, and this alone could support a rationale for ongoing education. Many education programs enhance and reinforce existing strengths. A seminar on workplace communication is a good example. There is always more to know about it. Although you perceive a high-functioning and inclusive workgroup, you can never be sure that covert, unspoken, or unacknowledged biases exist and that they have been felt. Diversity awareness plays an intervening role in averting potential problems.

February 2017

Supervisor is Fearful of Angry Employee

Q. We have an employee who gets very angry and exhibits rage. Thankfully, his performance is good, but I worry about having to fire him someday. What is the risk of violence if an employee like this is fired?
A.   IAn examination of workplace violence incidents shows some common patterns. One is an employee’s violent response to unexpected termination where, as a result, the employee believed the company or supervisor “ruined” his life. This underscores the importance of working closely with employees in correcting performance, using the EAP, providing regular feedback, and having regular performance reviews. Use performance improvement plans and apply progressive disciplinary steps if ever needed, where each step is accompanied by an alternative to attend the EAP. This leveraging approach can prevent the dismissal of some of the most difficult employees. No one can predict an employee’s reaction to termination, but the less sudden and surprising it is to a potentially violent employee, in all probability, the lower the risk of a violent response.

Group Complaints About Supervisor

Q. Three employees went to the EAP in a group to complain about me. Will the EAP take what they say at face value or use whatever is said against me? The employees are all experiencing different performance issues. What do EAPs do in situations like this?
A. It is not unusual for small groups of employees to visit the EAP to complain about a supervisor. Typically, these cases center on complaints about communication, supervision practices, anger issues, and unfair distribution of work. EAPs view these cases as opportunities to help employees and reduce workplace conflicts that could grow more severe. After a group interview, individual employee interviews typically lead to greater insights about the problem, issues within the group itself, individual employee needs, and unique concerns about each employee’s relationship with the supervisor. Recommendations follow. The best outcome is reduced conflicts with the supervisor. For serious issues concerning management practices, the EAP would recommend employees to other internal organizational resources (e.g., human resources, procedures in the company handbook). Be assured that the EAP does not function as a human resources advisor, legal advocate, or business representative, or team up to lead a charge against the supervisor. To do so would damage the EAP’s perceived value to supervisors, reduce utilization, and increase risk to the organization.

Employees Do Not Want to Participate in Diversity Training

Q. Our work unit is participating in a three-part workshop on diversity awareness in a couple of weeks. A few employees are grumbling about being asked to participate, but isn’t this training an appropriate business activity?

A. Your workforce is your organization’s most valuable resource. Continuing education, awareness, and training all contribute to helping it maintain its value. Diversity fits this purpose, as would any other topic that could enhance its functioning. That’s the business rationale. The 21st-century workplace is increasingly diverse, and where organizations or employees fail to appreciate the business case for diversity, they risk lower profits, conflicts, higher turnover, loss of customer loyalty, and the domino effect from dysfunction that flows from employee biases becoming prejudices that damage morale. Diversity awareness gives organizations a fighting chance to improve the cooperation between employees and instill the mutual positive regard critical to workplace harmony. Diversity awareness is not about forcing employees to change their beliefs, which is what will make employees grumble. Instead, diversity awareness is about understanding the critical role of respect and how important it is to value every worker, even with their differences, so job satisfaction is more likely.

What Consultative Help are Available from EAP?

Q. I know the EAP is available to consult with me on troubled employees and how to effectively refer them to the EAP. What other types of consultative help are available to supervisors from the EAP?

A. Beyond consulting with the EAP about performance issues and referrals, consider the EAP as an expert source of help and guidance in five additional areas: 1) Improving relationships you have with your employees by examining your leadership strengths, communication style, and any opportunities for improving these skills; 2) Discovering ways to engage individual employees and motivate them, based on your observations of their work habits and personality styles and thereby maximizing their productivity and job satisfaction; 3) Assistance for yourself in understanding how to better manage stress; 4) Help for difficulties you face in communicating, engaging, and satisfying the needs of upper management; and 5) Guidance in managing team communication, team development, and resolving conflicts among employees, especially where personalities clash.

What Does it Mean to be a Proactive Supervisor?

Q. What does it mean to be a proactive supervisor?

A. A proactive supervisor is a manager engaged in the supervisory role, making decisions that support the essential functions of the position and the organization’s mission. Proactive supervisors are more successful at establishing the conditions that require their response, while supervisors who are not proactive must react more often to conditions that are thrust upon them. When supervisors are proactive in supervision, they think and act upstream to produce and create desired outcomes, rather than waiting and reacting to issues, concerns, problems, and crises that will appear later, often in more severe forms, and directly as a result of a failure to be proactive. Being proactive allows them to manage stress more effectively, and they go home at the end of the day less tired. Proactive supervisors are able to influence direction, control events, and feel more satisfaction in their positions. They put out fewer fires. Being proactive does not mean supervisors will not experience sudden problems or crises that require attention and an immediate response, but it does mean that they will naturally experience fewer of them.

January 2017

Alcohol Abuse and Recovery

Q. We dismissed an alcoholic employee who relapsed after treatment, but now we hear he has been sober for over a year. It’s incredible because his case was a 25-year saga of problems and relapses. What explains this? He lost a six-figure salary.
A.   It is impossible to know all the factors that contributed to this pattern when the employee was with your company and the surprising success at recovery after termination. However, some common observations about recovery are worth understanding. Chronic alcoholism is always accompanied by an unpredictable path of progression—including problems at work and home, incidents and physical illness, and enabling patterns within the family and in society, all of which direct the course of the illness and the timing for when (if ever) the addict will accept treatment. A 25-year history of issues at work suggests a long-term pattern of enabling and confusion within the organization that may have contributed to the alcoholic’s belief that one more day without entering treatment was possible and that after treatment, a relapse would be accommodated. Remember, alcoholism is a drug addiction accompanied by cognitive distortions in thinking, especially denial. Your employee’s fear of job loss may never have materialized until after it was experienced, wherein the need for treatment and recovery was accepted in order to financially survive. But this is only a guess.

Self-Referral vs. Formal Referral

Q. I was about to make a supervisor referral of my employee to the EAP, but before I could, he went to the program as a self-referral. This is great, but I don’t have a release signed, as I would if this was a formal referral. Should I ask him to sign one now?
A. Unless a serious work rule violation occurred, where a formal referral would be included, you can monitor your employee’s performance for now as you normally would. You should expect resolution of performance issues. You will feel in the dark about what the status of your employee’s participation in the EAP might be, but such is the case with any self-referral. That’s okay. If your employee continues to struggle, then initiate a formal EAP referral and request a release as usual. Note: If your employee was aware of a pending supervisor referral, and decided to self-refer to prevent your communication with the EAP, this will have no effect on your ability to monitor performance and act as needed. The key is to focus on performance.

Changing Your Own Perceptions

Q. I am growing tired of being a supervisor because I don’t like solving everyone else’s problems. This is how I’ve come to see my role. How can I see this job differently? I am about to quit.

A. The most common struggle supervisors face in understanding their role is learning to manage and lead. This includes establishing goals and objectives, and then helping employees get clear on the required outcomes. When employees have this clarity, then things settle down and your life gets easier. Employees then know what to do, and you become less of a micromanager. Delegation is an integral part of this process, of course. It entails assigning work, handing over authority, and holding accountable those whom work has been assigned. Grab a book on the topic of managing people at work (many such books exist), and see whether taking these steps might take the load off. Meeting with the EAP to process this journey to improvement will make it much more likely that you will be happier at work.

Sharing at the Workplace

Q. Is it okay for supervisors to talk about their personal problems and stress in front of employees, or are we supposed to never let them see us sweat?

A. Employees who perceive you as a “real person” are more likely to consider you approachable when the need arises for help or intervention with job problems they can’t handle alone. This does not mean that you must make an effort to share your personal problems. Instead, you should present yourself in a way that matches your personality style and facilitates a professional and constructive relationship with employees. It is a matter of choice regarding how much you personally share, unless your job setting dictates otherwise, such as in a military or similar context. There is no hard-and-fast rule about personal disclosures, but you should consider their impact regardless. Remember, your relationship is not just with your employees, but also with each individual employee. Some employees may need you to be direct and formal, while others may benefit from seeing your more vulnerable side. Both types of employees can be high producers.

How to Energize Employees

Q. How can I energize my employees and get them to feel excited about the work we are doing?

A. Energize employees by taking every opportunity to recognize their contributions while urging them to excel. Spend time periodically letting them feel your enthusiasm for the work, the goal, the vision, and the ultimate outcome because this positivity is contagious when it’s genuine. Be sure you find your own ways to stay excited and energized because if you can’t feel excitement yourself, it will not be possible to pass it along to them. Remind employees about their past achievements, and get them to understand the underlying reasons they succeeded and did so well. This will offer clues about what keeps them energized. Urge employees to top last year’s achievements. If they feel your energy and genuine concern for them, they will accept your recommendation to do so without rolling their eyes.