Frontline Supervisor

This is an ongoing content series on the current EAN website. We have set it up again here so you can continue to use it (if you like.)

March 2023

March 14, 2023

Q. Is it okay to accompany my employee to an employee assistance program (EAP) meeting if the employee is nervous about attending, just to offer support and facilitate their engagement? I have an employee who is hesitant and made this request.

A. Phone the EAP to discuss your situation. Although it is atypical to accompany the employee to the EAP to show support, it is not prohibited. Anticipate only participating in a welcome and orientation meeting but not in the assessment that would include the sharing of personal information. Phoning ahead allows an EAP professional to discuss with you the nature of your employee’s request and consider how best to approach their concerns. Realize that your attendance at the first session does not mean personal information will be shared with you later and that a release would not be signed unless this is part of a formal referral based on a job performance–related matter. You should avoid probing or discussing personal issues with your employee after the EAP meeting. The primary reason for doing so is the dynamic of how such conversations can easily lead to an employee’s decision to disengage from a treatment or counseling referral.

Q. We had training in workplace substance abuse but not how to approach an employee nor what to say and how to say it. Can you offer tips for engaging with an employee whom we suspect is under the influence on the job?

A. Take a couple of minutes to observe your employee and document details such as slurred speech, unsteady gait, or difficulty concentrating. If your company requires a second supervisor’s observation, or involvement of a union or business representative, make these arrangements. Company policies vary widely regarding these issues. Find a private location to have a confidential conversation with the employee. Express your concerns about the behavior but be direct and non apologetic. Do not make assumptions or accusations. State what you have observed. For example, ask the employee, “Bill, you look a little ‘off.’ Are you okay?” And then allow the employee to respond. Or ask, “Have you been drinking today?” Be calm. Show empathy. Do not be judgmental. If the employee admits to drinking or shows signs of impairment, address the issue immediately and follow your company’s referral policy, including whom to notify. The above is for general information only. Consult with HR and your EAP representative for greater clarification.

Q. The EAP doesn’t provide legal advice, but how can consulting with an EAP professional reduce the risk of an employer being sued?

A. EAPs encourage supervisor consultations, and one benefit of these consultations is to reduce the risk of legal complaints prompted by missteps in the supervision process. For example, the EAP might help the supervisor present clearer expectations to an employee regarding their performance. This in turn would help prevent an unnecessary adverse job action for failure by the employee to perform to standards and a subsequent legal claim for being treated unfairly. EAP professionals know the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the workplace. During a consultation, the EAP professional may discuss the supervisor’s awareness of how a decision or course of action might be received, particularly if it could lead to a complaint of discrimination. These are only two examples of how EAPs reduce legal exposure, which undoubtedly is one of EAPs’ most cost-beneficial impacts.

Q. How do I confront an employee who suddenly is performing unsatisfactorily without sounding ungrateful for their past performance?

A. An employee who has been an excellent performer but is now showing a pattern of reduced effort and quality or quantity of work must be confronted, but the right approach is crucial. Schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss their recent performance. Acknowledge their past performance and highlight the value they bring to the company. Both aspects are powerful in motivating change. Let your employee know you appreciate their work and its positive impact. Be specific about the problem you are discussing, with examples of where they have fallen short. Include how the current performance issues are affecting the team, if applicable. Ask for the employee’s perspective and what they think about the issues you have just shared. You may hear about personal issues at this point that are suitable for referral to the EAP. Overall, take the “we” approach to help get the problem resolved. For example, say, “Bill, let’s work to get you back on track.” Set expectations, a timeline for change, and a schedule for reviewing the employee’s progress. Let the employee know you are a strong believer in their ability to deliver.

Q. I have been hearing the word “belonging” quite often as it pertains to employee well-being. Is this new concept, and what should it mean to me as supervisor?

A. The word “belonging” has come to mean helping ensure that all employees feel welcomed, included, and connected in the workplace. It also means that employees feel valued and respected for who they are, along with having their contributions recognized and appreciated. Belonging is important because it can lead to increased job satisfaction, engagement, and motivation. This can dramatically improve performance and productivity. Supervisors can value belonging by embracing employee differences, encouraging open and honest communication between workers, and finding opportunities for employees to grow and develop. Don’t forget to celebrate achievements and contributions. Engage your employees one-on-one with effective conversations to identify feelings of lack of belonging. Do this by regularly asking them how they are doing and how the job is working out for them.

FrontLineSupervisor is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be specific guidance for any particular supervisor or human resource management concern. For specific guidance on handling individual employee problems, consult with your EA professional.  ©2023 DFAPublishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.

January 2023

January 5, 2023

Q. My employee was recently treated for an alcohol use disorder and is back at work. Absenteeism was a serious issue in the past. The EAP was not involved because he self-referred to treatment. Can the EAP help with this now? We’re a little worried about future absences.

A. If attendance problems are no longer an issue, a reason for a formal referral no longer exists, but you can still strongly recommend the EAP based on the circumstances. Recommend self-referral (informal) so the EAP can offer support and follow up. There is a strong chance he will accept because employees new to recovery are both grateful and highly cooperative. With EAP participation, the professional will learn about the post-discharge treatment plan and more fully understand the scope of treatment and issues associated with it. Recovery and follow-through would be monitored. The EAP would encourage that a release be signed to provide limited information to you. The EAP would also be able to assess any obstacles or family matters that could undermine the recovery program. The upside will be less concern on your part if the employee calls in sick for a seasonal illness.

Q. There is tension between me and one of my best workers. I don’t think he’s about to quit, but I know a decision to leave can come out of the blue. How do I intervene early, and can the EAP guide me in improving this relationship?

A. Managers expect employees to come to them if they are having problems with work or communication, but you can’t count on it. Your decision to be proactive is a good one. Ask your employee to meet with you in uninterrupted time. Be honest and state that you feel the tension, and ask whether he feels the same. If so, ask what he thinks is creating this tension. Be sure to approach the conversation with an attitude of wanting the employee to succeed with the skills he brings to the company. It is likely your employee will share what’s impeding his job satisfaction and what work habits or communication issues play a role. Be prepared to hear complaints that catch you off guard. Still, avoid defensiveness, and show how open-minded you can actually be to feedback. Thank your employee, and consider changes. Be sure to consider the EAP as a source of help in your effort to make any personal changes you feel the need to make.

Q. I read that depression is one of the most costly problems and one of the most common issues affecting the workplace, but honestly, I don’t think I have ever had a depressed employee. At least I have never seen classic symptoms. What am I missing?

A. Employees who are depressed may not appear with readily identifiable symptoms or match the stereotype of a sad and slow-moving person. Depression can exist for years, go unnoticed by others, and surprise even close friends when a person finally seeks treatment. Still, depression can be life-threatening if severe enough. Employees with depression may be easily irritated, struggle with anger management, have gastrointestinal complaints, be easily distracted, have intermittent aches and pains, be accident prone, appear to have low motivation, or demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm. However, some symptoms of depression are not visible. Many employees may not view themselves as depressed because they explain away their mood and experiences as caused by other things like stress or personal problems. They may suffer for years without seeking help. Focus on quality of work and attendance problems. Refer to the EAP based these or other productivity issues. If you do so, it’s likely you will refer depressed employees to the EAP and never know it.

Q. Many employees have responsibilities taking care of elderly parents. I know it’s difficult. I want to be compassionate. But how do I draw a balance between being understanding and insisting on satisfactory job performance? There is no getting around the work needing to get done.

A. As baby boomers age, more employees will experience the stress of eldercare responsibilities with fewer siblings to help, unlike generations past. This stress is compounded by travel necessary to reach elderly parents who may not live nearby, also unlike in the past. Seeking to accommodate these realities and retain valuable workers is critical for most employers. 1) Be proactive in supporting employee caregivers; 2) ask if support is needed that the employer might consider; 3) ask employees for their ideas about modified scheduling (it may produce a win-win idea); 4) refer employees to the EAP when a need is obvious, but also as a reminder, even if no issues are evident; and5) discuss with human resource advisors what support guidelines or flexibility exists to accommodate employees. Facts: A caregiving employee averages 47 years old and provides 21 hours per week of caregiving outside of work. Seventy percent report that they miss time from work, and 50% say their careers have been adversely affected.

Q. We are conducting companywide training in resolving conflicts, creating a positive workplace, and improving office communication. One of my employees is close to being terminated because of serious issues in these areas. Should I refer to the EAP now or later if changes aren’t forthcoming after training?

A. The key principle regarding formal referral to the EAP is to do so when your efforts fail to correct the employee’s performance issues. So, the training you have planned is a reasonable approach and a good place to start if no serious behavioral risk issues or safety concerns exist. In fact, the training topics suggest that there will be plenty of employee interaction and feedback among learners. This may contribute to significant awareness and insight, and if changes aren’t forthcoming, will make an EAP referral more effective with a more motivated employee.

FrontLineSupervisor is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be specific guidance for any particular supervisor or human resource management concern. For specific guidance on handling individual employee problems, consult with your EA professional.  ©2023 DFAPublishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.