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current selection is Supervisory Traps
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Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy
Drug-Free Workplace Advisor
Supervisor Training

Supervisory Traps

In an attempt to deal with an employee's problems, the supervisor may actually end up enabling the employee. "Enabling" is action that you take that protects the employee from the consequences of his/her actions and actually helps the employee to NOT deal with the problem. Supervisors will need to be on guard to avoid taking this route when faced with a troubled employee.

Examples of enabling behavior include:

  • Covering Up - providing alibis, making excuses or even doing an impaired worker's work rather than confronting the issue that he/she is not meeting his/her responsibilities.
  • Rationalizing - developing reasons why the person's continued substance abuse or behavior is understandable or acceptable.
  • Withdrawing/Avoiding - avoiding contact with the person with the problem
  • Blaming - blaming yourself for the substance abuser's continued use or getting angry at the individual for not trying hard enough to control his/her use or to get help.
  • Controlling - trying to take responsibility for the person's use by throwing out his/her drugs or cutting off the supply, or trying to minimize the impact by moving him/her to a less important job.
  • Threatening - saying that you will take action (ceasing to cover up, taking formal disciplinary action) if the person doesn't control their use, but not following through when he/she repeatedly uses.
Supervisors also have to beware that the employee will consciously or unconsciously use a variety of "traps" to protect himself or herself when being confronted by the supervisor.

Examples of these traps are:

Sympathy: Trying to get you involved in his/her personal problems.
Excuses: Having increasingly improbable explanations for everything that happens.
Apology: Being very sorry and promising that they will change. ("It won't happen again.")
Diversions: Trying to get you to talk about other issues in life or in the workplace.
Innocence: Claiming he/she is not the cause of the problems you observe, but rather the victim. ("It isn't true." "I didn't know." "Everyone is against me.")
Anger: Exhibiting physically intimidating behavior, blaming others. ("It's your fault I drink.")
Pity: Using emotional blackmail to elicit your sympathy and guilt. ("You know what I'm going through. How can you do this to me now?")
Tears: Falling apart and expressing remorse upon confrontation.

It is important that the supervisor not let the employee evade the subject. Don't let yourself back down from the confrontation due to excuses or sympathy-evoking tactics. Be straightforward and serious about the problem. Convey that you care and are worried and encourage the employee to follow up with the referral to the EAP to get help to improve his or her performance.