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.)

September, 2022

September 2, 2022

Q. I made my employee an assistant supervisor, but I see him struggling in the leadership role. He isn’t very proactive, doesn’t speak with authority, and is not decisive. Can the EAP help? Or would it be better to suggest workshops or other supervisor training where skills can be taught?

A. Assuming you have discussed with your employee the need to demonstrate better leadership skills and then not seen any results, you can’t assume the difficulty your employee faces is only a lack of knowledge and know-how. The dynamic you describe is a continuing problem despite your effort as a manager to correct it, so an EAP referral is a good starting point. This does not rule out continuing education the EAP may suggest to the employee. The EAP will discuss the difficulties he is experiencing in the position, the work climate, and the employee’s understanding of what underlies the problem. There are many issues that can interfere with performance beyond the educational piece, but it is likely the EAP will identify what they are. Expect that a release will be signed with the employee’s permission. The EAP may inquire about your experiences during and after your attempts to guide the employee to improve his performance, which can offer the EAP professional greater insight.

Q. What is meant by an employee having a “growth mindset”?

A. A growth mindset is a term first coined by Carol Susan Dweck, Ph.D., a Stanford University psychologist. She was famous for her studies of mindset, temperament, and personality. Growth mindset refers to the way employees approach the world of challenges and obstacles with optimism, a sense of opportunity, resourcefulness, positivity, and resilience. This contrasts with employees who may have a “fixed mindset” and resist learning something new, give up easily when faced with obstacles, feel anxious about others’ successes, and shy away from negative feedback. Consider researching “growth mindset” online to identify articulable descriptions of positive behaviors associated with the mindset. Then you can reward and affirm these behaviors while also helping struggling employees by guiding them in performance reviews to adopt the behaviors and work attributes that support productivity and help demonstrate outstanding performance. You also can use the EAP to help employees overcome patterns of ineffective approaches to work struggles.

Q. What is “brain fog,” and what might a supervisor observe in an employee struggling with this condition?

A. Brain fog is a descriptive term for a set of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to think. But it is not a recognized medical diagnosis. Recently, brain fog has received public awareness in the media as it pertains to a constellation of complaints experienced by those who contract COVID-19. Symptoms include difficulty in expressing one’s thoughts, inability to mentally calculate things quickly, feeling disorganized, dizziness, and struggles with memory. Causes of brain fog can be attributed to not just COVID-19 but also other issues like lack of sleep, stress, pollution, poor diet, and anxiety. At work, any of the above may be blamed for performance issues. So, diagnosing something as brain fog or dismissing symptoms as such can have serious consequences, since other medical problems may be related to an employee’s condition. Refer employees to approved health, wellness, or EAP resources for assistance, assessment, or further referral.


Q. Most of the employees in our office, including me, wander into work late by 10–15 minutes every day. One employee has started coming to work 45–60 minutes late. All of this has to stop, so how do I “push the reset button”? Should I have a meeting and lay down the law?

A. The near-universal problem of tardiness coming to work that you describe has its origins in the permissibility you have shown by your own example. So the starting point is changing your behavior first, both to model a new standard and to set the stage for something new. You then can have a meeting, but going forward, deal with your employees individually rather than as a group regarding this issue, because it is personal responsibility, not a team effort, that will be required to make the changes needed. One employee is coming in extraordinarily late. Anticipate this person coming in on time when the new standard is set, but later, coming late again would not be unusual if a personal problem of some sort exists. Consider use of the EAP if this pattern resumes.

Q. I have been a manager for 20 years. Although I have given advice to other supervisors on confronting difficult employees, it still seems more like an art than a science to get changes from an employee. What are the best tips for confronting difficult employees to keep and pass along?

A. Although each of the following could be divided into additional steps, they represent some of the best tips in correcting behavior or performance. 1)Don’t delay in dealing with a problem. As time passes, it generally becomes more difficult to correct. 2) Prepare to be surprised by an employee’s explanation for the behavior or issue. Be open-minded about what to do next. 3)Don’t be long-winded, lecturing, or parental. It triggers resistance. 4)Employees are your most valuable resource. Keep this in mind and you will use the right tone. 5) Don’t be angry with employees to the degree that you omit reminding them what they do well. Doing so generates motivation to cooperate with you. 6) Bring notes or an outline. It helps you and helps the employees take you seriously. 7) Meet in a nonsocial, business setting to convey importance. 8) Mention the EAP as a resource for employees to use if they experience difficulty making the changes requested.

FrontLine Supervisor 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.  ©2022 DFAPublishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.

August 2022

August 4, 2022

Q. Our supervisors recently struggled with how to notify employees about a worker’s suicide and, in one case, a murder at a remote location. This delayed managing the incidents and recognizing these employees’ lives. This caused upset among coworkers. How should managers respond to such incidents?

A. The death of an employee, especially by accident or homicide, will thrust the manager into a crisis role that employees instantly rely upon for direction, support, and empathy. Fortunately, from the standpoint of how to manage it, death in the workplace is not new. Step-by-step protocols and checklists exist for managers to follow, although smaller employers may not keep such material on hand. Examples can be found at the American Psychological Association, the Society for Human Resources and nonprofits that focus on helping people manage grief (see below).The EAP can also assist with helping managers find such resources, while supporting employees and later offering more awareness and education about helping employees and recognizing protracted grief and its effects on productivity. Note that the two most significant mistakes managers make regarding death in the workplace is treating such incidences too lightly or turning away from them too soon in an attempt to get back to work.

Q. Can I refer an employee to the EAP for acting“ immature”? By immature I mean demonstrating behaviors that are more like those of a teenager, acting out of personal desires rather than putting the needs of the team first, and displaying jealousy and envy of others. This employee must change.

A. Since “immaturity” is difficult to measure, it becomes important to be descriptive of the objectionable behavior so it can be presented in a corrective interview. You can then ask that it stop, be clear about it, and later measure whether change happens. This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is crucial to motivate change and refer the employee to the EAP if it becomes necessary. You may need to witness again the behavior you describe, and document it contemporaneously so it is clear. You have witnessed the employee being selfish and “not putting the needs of the group first.” How is this demonstrated by words or behavior, and what substantiates the attitude and misdirection you see? Rely on the EAP or your human resources advisor for help in how to construct useful documentation. You are more likely to see the changes you want, possibly without ever needing to make a referral.

Q. If I formally refer my employee to the employee assistance program because of performance problems, and a release of confidential information is signed, what information should I request that won’t cross the boundaries of what is routine and necessary?

A. The EAP will contact you when a release of information is signed, and it may do so more than once to provide information that is appropriate and enough for you to perform your job as a supervisor. You won’t be in the dark about the status of your employee, but you always can call the EAP if this communication does not seem timely enough for you. There may be good reasons the EAP has not contacted you yet, but it is better for you to not wonder what is going on at the EAP. When contacting the EAP, it is appropriate to ask whether an issue or matter is being addressed, but not about the nature of the problem or its diagnosis; whether the employee is cooperating and following through with the EAP recommendations; and whether the employee will require any accommodations from you with regard to scheduling, time off, or other changes in the work situation necessary to treat or address the employee’s problem. These three types of information have historically been recognized for decades as the essentials for communicating with supervisors who have made formal referrals.

Q. We have employees returning to on-site work, and many have not been together for quite a while. Is there something I should do as a supervisor to facilitate the renewed team environment, or will this naturally take care of itself?

A. Reboarding” (re-onboarding) describes the process of reuniting employees and facilitating their renewed role in the workplace. The process recognizes that previously quality teams and effective coworker relationships will not necessarily pick up where they left off. Many surveys report dramatically increased anxiety of employees returning to work. Change causes stress; this alone is enough to make the transition back to work more difficult. Managing this anxiety falls on supervisors. Along with many employees perceiving remote work as more desirable, changes in family routines add to employees’ stress. A key objective for managers is helping to prevent attrition by facilitating an equally happy on-site job experience. This requires understanding, patience, reassurance, and good communication. Being present and holding meaningful conversations with employees and allowing them to share their viewpoints and opinions about what they are experiencing being back on the job are crucial. Pay attention to signs or symptoms of troubled workers, particularly those who appear unable to reengage. Suggest the EAP, or refer employees as needed.

Q. My employee says he is being treated for depression by a psychiatrist. He is still coming to work late, however. This is my key concern. The EAP is not involved yet, but how do I involve the EAP if my employee is already seeing a medical doctor and a therapist? Won’t the employee resist?

A. You can involve the EAP by making a referral based upon the performance, conduct, or attendance issues demonstrated by this employee. In this case, coming repeatedly late to work is the problem. It’s a good thing your employee is seeking help, and it may help resolve the depression problem, but attendance problems remain. So, the EAP is appropriate. If your employee meets with the EAP, a release will be signed, an assessment will be conducted to consider the type of treatment being received, and a decision will be made to either consult with the physician (with the employee’s permission) or make additional recommendations based on the EAP’s findings. Could there be a problem that the psychiatrist is not treating? Could there be a misdiagnosis? Could the EAP discover the real problem that contributes to attendance issues? The answer to these questions is yes.

FrontLine Supervisor 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.  ©2022 DFAPublishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.