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current selection is Intervention and Referral
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Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy
Drug-Free Workplace Advisor
Supervisor Training

Intervention and Referral

Most supervisors have received strong messages not to involve themselves in the personal lives of employees. But since some of these problems affect all aspects of an employee's life, and people can't park their problems at the door, the problems accompany them into the workplace. When alcohol or drug use impact job performance, it becomes a supervisory concern. In fact, off-the-job behavior, such as the use of alcohol and other drugs, can have serious consequences for all of us in the workplace. Employees whose performance fails to meet expectations may have a serious personal problem that is impairing their performance. Perhaps it's a marital problem or financial trouble, or it could be signs of a developing alcohol or drug problem.

Knowing that you have a troubled employee is often easy. The employee has the skills to do the job, has even performed well in the past, and now is having problems on the job. You may find that your supervisory interventions don't bring about sustained improvement and you are running out of ideas.

Supervisors usually go through several phases when faced with an employee whose performance is declining as described below.

  • Uncertainty and denial. The employee may give excuses to explain away the problems, such as sick kids, family emergencies and car trouble. You have the natural and hopeful feeling that things will probably straighten themselves out. You may even have a "heart-to-heart" discussion with the employee at this point.
  • Anger, frustration and exasperation. As the problems continue and worsen you move into the next phase, characterized by anger, frustration and exasperation. There are broken promises from the employee, and you find that it takes more time to double check and monitor the employee's performance. You begin to suspect that the employee is lying and just giving more excuses.
  • Self-doubt and guilt. Next, you may go through a phase when you question your own ability as a manager. You may experience some guilt about bending the rules for the employee or because you finally blew up at the employee.
  • Recognition. This is the phase when you recognize that normal efforts have not corrected the problem or motivated the employee. Hopefully, this recognition then leads to documentation, constructive confrontation and a referral to the EAP or other assistance.