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.)

May 2024

May 3, 2024

Q. What type of drug causes the most problems with attendance?

A. Alcohol is still the number one drug that causes the most attendance problems. Affected employees are not limited to those who suffer from an alcohol use disorder, but include social drinkers who miss work because of hangovers. But it does not stop there. Those with alcohol use disorders may arrive on time for work but may leave early because of severe agitation and a craving for a drink (withdrawal symptoms), which interfere with their ability to be productive. Some may drink at lunch, outside the workplace, or they may hide alcohol to drink on the job to raise their blood alcohol levels in order to be more functional. This drinking pattern may lead to another form of absenteeism associated with availability, meaning the employee is at work but is incapable of functioning productively or is somewhere at work but unable to be found (present but unavailable).

Q. I am a new supervisor, and I would like to start developing leadership skills now rather than discover these on the job. Is there a way to explain to me how I can “think like a leader”?

A. You can study leadership, but learning on the job is key to success. Some key principles of leadership are worth knowing. The following list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good start. Begin by having a vision for your role and work unit. It is easier to apply leadership skills when you have goals and imagined outcomes. Be aware that employees naturally observe and analyze your behavior. So, be an example for them to follow, rather than having them gossip about you behind closed doors. Encourage employees to be proactive and take the initiative, and support them with resources where possible. Communicate and foster open and honest communication with each employee, not just the group. Discover what each one aspires to be and achieve in their career. Offer mentorship, coaching, and training opportunities. Create a supportive and inclusive work environment and intervene quickly in situations that threaten this environment. Last, but not least, strive for continuous development of yourself.

Q. Several years ago we had supervisor training for how to use the EAP, and since then I am not sure about what steps to follow, which forms to fill in, and which performance information to provide. I have an employee to refer. It’s critical the referral is successful. Should I phone the EAP first?

A. Yes, phone the EAP. Don’t overburden yourself with the details before this call, and consider phoning the EAP anytime you have a referral need or situation that could benefit from consultive help. You were exposed to the general idea and use of an EAP. Although nothing happens at the EAP until a referral is successful, the most important part of using the EAP is follow-up after the referral. Lack of follow-up undermines any sort of counseling or treatment of any condition or disorder. And relapse resulting from failure to follow up is expensive if it leads to consequent turnover or calamities that cause injury or loss. Most supervisors fall short on follow-up, so ask the EAP what role you should play after referral to ensure continued progress in the performance area you need satisfied.

Q. Our recently hired employee had superior performance for six or seven weeks, but since then, everything has gone downhill with this person not producing good work. Some colleagues say to let the new employee go during the probation period, but I am not sure. Any advice?

A. Consult with your human resources advisor in matters of employment, discipline, and separation. Many factors may play a part in your organization’s decision about what it ultimately wants to do. An EAP would decline offering an opinion in such a matter. If your management advisors support a decision to make an EAP referral, share documentation with the EAP, particularly a detailed account of the decline in work performance. Often, employee assistance professionals can identify through performance patterns what sort of personal problems exist, especially if the performance record is available during the EAP assessment. The satisfactory work initially is a strong indicator of the worker’s potential, but it may take a confidential EAP assessment to identify the true cause of the decline in performance. Avoiding turnover and resurrecting a good work record appears reasonable in this instance.

Q. My employee is telling new coworkers that I am unfair and that they should be careful in the office because I play favorites. Of course, I heard this secondhand, but I think the source is credible. How should I respond?

A. Addressing this situation is important because it can adversely affect morale. Have a private meeting with this employee to discuss their concerns. Show yourself to be completely open-minded with a desire to resolve the issues. Begin the conversation by expressing your concerns about what you heard. Seek clarity because the secondhand information you received may not be entirely accurate. Listen completely, don’t become defensive, and don’t interrupt. It is to your advantage to support open communication, and in this regard explain or clarify the matters perceived as favoritism to the employee concerned. Share how you make decisions and any factors that influence your thinking. Emphasize the importance of employees coming to you directly rather than venting in such a way that rumors or gossip result. Ask the employee for input as to how they would like decisions made, actions taken, or changes made. Monitor employee communication for a while, and promptly address any similar instances that arise. Document the discussion.

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.  ©2024 DFA Publishing & Consulting, LLC.Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.

April 2024

April 2, 2024

Q. Allegedly, an employee directed to the EAP a year ago who was treated for a severe cannabis addiction is now drinking. Alcohol abstinence was part of his post-discharge treatment plan. Job performance remains satisfactory, so I have not taken any action. What is the guidance for this scenario?

A. Your primary concerns should remain attendance, behavior, conduct, and the quality of work, but this does not preclude your contacting the EAP to share your concerns. Your confronting the employee would not be proper and would likely be ineffective. Although you do not need a signed consent for the release of confidential information to speak with the EAP, the reverse is not true. The EAP may or may not be aware of the issues you describe, an older release may have expired, or other issues may exist associated with your employee’s treatment or the EAP’s management of the case. There are obviously a lot of possibilities; however, you can rely on the EAP to make the best decision about how it should proceed. Note that you will likely not have the privilege of learning what the EAP decides. Some supervisors find these unknowns to be frustrating, but the easy answer is to focus on performance, Hence, the advice is to focus on performance, standards, work rules, and guidance from HR as needed.

Q. Will the EAP give me advice on the management of an employee’s performance, specifically the type of discipline that would be appropriate, given the worker’s temperament, psychiatric issues, or other considerations?

A. The EAP is a resource for the organization’s employees and management, but it will not provide guidance on how you should proceed regarding performance management and disciplinary matters specific to an employee. This is beyond the scope of what an employee assistance program does or was designed to do. Turn to your manager or HR advisor regarding this sort of guidance. Supervisors are primarily accountable for the performance and conduct of their employees. Supervisors must exercise leadership and judgment in determining appropriate disciplinary measures based on their knowledge of the situation and organizational policies. Furthermore, HR advisors are professionals who can advise on actions that comply with legal and regulatory requirements, such as labor laws, employment contracts, and union agreements. EAPs cannot comment authoritatively on these matters, and trust in the program would be seriously undermined if any legal issues or considerations were overlooked and the organization faced potential liability as a result.

Q. I suggested my employee visit the EAP for a personal issue. She’s a competent worker but could likely improve. I didn’t request feedback from the EAP because I don’t think the issue is serious. Is this considered a supervisory referral or a self-referral?

A. From the EAP’s perspective, this would be treated as a self-referral, but if the employee-client mentions your role, it may be considered an “informal supervisor referral.” Not all EAPs recognize informal supervisor referrals, but it can be important to an organization to know that supervisors are proactive in referring employees to any degree. This helps establish program value. The assumption is that a supervisor who prompts a referral formally value. The assumption is that a supervisor who prompts a referral formally or informally often is identifying employees who are less likely to self-refer. Some severely troubled employees may not self-refer because of denial that they have a problem, stigma, or fear of what may be entailed with appropriate treatment. These roadblocks can lead to greater risk for the organization. When making an informal referral for an employee, consider contacting the EAP to mention your role. The EAP may decide later that there is a good reason to have the employee sign a release enabling limited information to be provided to you that will be beneficial to the employee’s care.

Q. Employees are often defensive when confronted about their conduct and performance issues. Please offer tips on helping reduce the likelihood of this defensiveness in a constructive confrontation.

A. A “constructive confrontation” or corrective interview is undermined if the employee is not receptive and cooperative. The supervisor has a key role insetting the tone for such meetings so they are not conflict-laden. 1) Make sure you can clearly describe what performance is not acceptable. Plan, because a vague or awkward description of the performance complaint will become a prompt for defensiveness. 2) Have your meeting in a private place. 3) Set enough time to relay your comments and for the employee to respond. 4) Seek confirmation that the employee understands your concerns. 5) Avoid any focus on personality style, which can be difficult if you have experienced much frustration. 6)Maintain a constructive tone. Stay calm. 7) Seek cooperation, not confrontation, by remembering that your goal is to improve the employee’s performance. A good approach is to “team” with the employee to resolve the problem and end on a positive note because both of you have the same goal.

Q. When making a supervisor referral to the EAP, is it helpful to have the employee take a copy of the performance issues upon which the EAP referral is based, even if I have consulted with the EAP by phone and separately with the employee?  

A. Yes, nothing beats this sort of clear communication. Be sure the EAP anticipates the written information to arrive with the employee, even if you have spoken to both parties separately and provided each with the same information. Failure to have this information in writing will make it easier for the employee to claim that the supervisor has not justified the performance complaints or that there is a difference in understanding regarding the details of the performance issues. This conflict or confusion would naturally reduce cooperation with the EAP and its recommendations or make them more difficult to determine. If the employee arrives for an assessment and recognizes confusion or inconsistency in communications, the EAP assessment and its effectiveness are typically more difficult.

FrontLine Supervisoris 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.  ©2024DFA Publishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.