Using the tools at hand

by Shaun Kieran

Despite the fact that virtually all employees and supervisors get some sort of “how to” orientation around utilizing a company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it’s striking how little the process is really understood and properly implemented.

This is especially sad for frontline supervisors – who need all the help they can get. Line supervisors, more than virtually any other group, are the true “face” of an organization. They’re responsible for the tasks and processes that are an organization’s actual work product.

Managers face the realities of supervising people with a wide range of skills, abilities, motivation, and personal baggage – not the slightly fictional people that present themselves on resumes, or in management textbooks and supervisory training. In addition to the supervisor’s own natural people skills, he or she should be aware of and utilize all available resources – a company’s policies and procedures, his or her own supervisor, and the EAP.

There may well be valid, very human reasons why a supervisor might hesitate to address problems with an employee, but it’s essential that supervisors overcome that hesitation and go toward, rather than away from, workplace problems. The key is to frame a situation in terms of what the workplace needs – adequate workplace performance. Gone should be phrases like “personality conflict” or “attitude problem.” Instead, with the job description firmly in mind, there should be concrete language describing how behavior or non-performance is affecting the workplace and its mission.

Yes, be a problem solver. Sometimes addressing a problem might reveal a need to put more resources in a particular area, or a need for further training. But sometimes a performance problem may have causes a supervisor couldn’t possibly, and even shouldn’t, know. If an identified performance problem is, or may be, caused by an employee’s personal problems – that’s precisely what an EAP is for! The Employee Assistance Program provides a free, confidential opportunity for an employee to address personal issues that may be affecting that employee’s ability to perform adequately in the workplace.

Supervisors should become totally familiar with the way their organization connects with its EAP. They should have brochures and cards readily available. They should essentially know how it works, how to access a counselor, how many sessions, etc. They should understand how to introduce the idea of the EAP into a discussion about job performance problems – don’t diagnose, don’t try to “counsel” an employee. Remember, actually going to the EAP is up to the employee. Unless the employee gives permission there’s no reason for a supervisor to know whether the employee is using the program or not, and should have no bearing on whether the employee is viewed favorably or not. It’s not about going to EAP, it’s about performing adequately. Ironically, keeping that focus is not just good advice for supervisors. Keeping workplace performance front and center is also the best way for employees to sort out their personal problems (sometimes with the help of EAP,) and stay on the job.

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