Employee Assistance
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Understanding & Helping
With Personal Problems

Employee Assistance

Problems in the workplace can often be prevented by timely and appropriate response to warning signs that an individual is under stress or having trouble handling a personal problem. Information available here will help you understand several common types of personal problems and the kinds of help that are available. It will not, however, substitute for the kind of personalized help you or your co-worker, friend, or family member can get from a trained medical professional or counselor.

At some point during their career, many employees develop a personal problem for which they could use counseling or medical assistance. Counseling helps you deal with family, marital and relationship problems, substance abuse problems, financial difficulties, stress, depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and other mental or emotional problems. Employees are encouraged to make full use of local medical and counseling services as needed.

 Boxed-In and Desperate
In case after case of destructive behavior in the workplace, whether it be theft of property, fraud, violence against other personnel, suicide, or espionage, investigators have documented situations in which troubled employees felt boxed in. They have acted out of a sense of desperation, or a feeling that there is no other way out. Professional counseling does offer another and better way.

When arrested spies are interviewed about why they committed the ultimate betrayal, the most common theme is: "I had a problem I couldn't deal with. I didn't get any help. If I had had some real assistance, the whole thing would not have happened."

Ideally, a troubled individual will recognize a need for help and obtain it on his or her own. Often, however, those with serious problems will not take the initiative in seeking help to confront the problem. Indeed, denying the existence of an obvious problem is a common reaction by those most in need of help.

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Don't ignore
the obvious.

If the individual fails to seek help on his or her own, it is the immediate supervisor's responsibility to take appropriate action. Often, however, you rather than the supervisor are the one who is most aware that a friend or co-worker is exhibiting signs of distress or inability to cope with a situation. In such cases, your personal intervention is in the best interests of your friend or co-worker as well as your organization. You should advise a supervisor or talk with the individual directly.

If you are at a loss for words to start an appropriate discussion with the individual, many counseling services will give you free advice on how to proceed.  Another alternative is to print out the relevant section of this guide. It's like tearing out an Ann Landers or Dear Abby column from the newspaper and giving it to someone who needs the advice. Tell them: "Here, you really ought to read this. You seem to be having a problem, and this might help. I care about you as a friend and co-worker, so please don't be offended if I try to be helpful."

Supervisor Responsibilities

Any supervisor who observes a noticeable decline in an employee's performance should consider that it may be caused by a family disruption, emotional problem, financial problem, or substance abuse. An employee who is worried or preoccupied by a serious personal problem often finds it difficult to focus on his or her work. A supervisor need not know what the problem is -- only that the employee's job performance is being affected.

The first step in dealing with any performance problem is normal supervisory counseling. If this does not solve the problem, consider directing the employee to obtain counseling. You may even wish to make the appointment for the employee. If you do, discuss the confidentiality issue with the counselor and then with the employee. Everyone should know in advance how much the counselor is expected to tell you about the employee's problem.

Supervisors should not become personally involved in an employee's personal problems. They should, however, ensure that a troubled employee who needs help is referred to the professionals who are trained to give it.

Related Topics: Standards of Personal Conduct, Reporting Improper, Unreliable or Suspicious Behavior.