Remain primarily focused on work performance and conduct.
Without probing for details, acknowledge that personal issues can affect an employee at work. When it seems appropriate, refer to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Let employees know that the EAP can help them personal and job-related concerns in a safe, confidential setting.
Do not protect the employee from natural consequences.
Preserving one’s employment status is often the most powerful motivation for seeking assistance with a mental health or substance abuse problem. By following through with appropriate sanctions for poor performance or conduct, you can avoid “enabling” the employee to deny personal problems and the need for professional help.
Protect the employee’s privacy.
Although you cannot promise an employee complete confidentiality, you can protect their privacy and their right to decide how to manage a personal problem. If the employee is in crisis or is subject to adverse personnel action, share information only with those directly involved with addressing the situation.
Take care of yourself.
In your supervisory role, you can be caring and compassionate without becoming an employee’s primary source of emotional support. Pace yourself with your efforts to help, especially if the employee’s distress is more than fleeting. If it’s difficult for you to keep these boundaries, the EAP can provide consultation re: how to assist a troubled employee without over-extending yourself.
Be alert to “crisis-oriented” employees.
Some people cope with life stressors by making constant chaos for themselves, going from one crisis to another…. When this plays out in the workplace, such crisis-oriented employees can exact a toll on productivity, teamwork and morale. Signs that you are dealing with a crisis-oriented employee might include:
- recurrent conflict with co-workers and/or problems with authority
- extreme, unpredictable emotional reactions, e.g., despondency, rage
- a tendency to make unreasonable demands on others
- crisis-oriented help-seeking – conveying a lot of urgency but failing to take constructive actions that might help prevent future crises
- a tendency to manipulate in efforts to get needs met
- suicidal threats, flagrantly reckless or self-destructive behavior
- “help-rejecting” behavior, including resistance to seeking professional help and appropriate support.
Try to differentiate between a problem versus a crisis, and seek consultation if you are unsure of how to proceed with a given situation.
SIGNS OF A PROBLEM include:
- Sudden or gradual decline in vocational or social functioning
- Employee seems depressed – sad mood, low energy, poor concentration
- Stress-related symptoms, physical or emotional/behavioral
- Observable anxiety, panic symptoms
- Indications of alcohol or drug abuse
- Signs of compulsive behavior (e.g., overwork, spending)
- Suspected domestic violence or sexual harassment/victimization.
SIGNS OF A CRISIS, which demand an immediate response, include:
- Any mention or threat of suicide
- Any threat or motion to harm another person
- Observed violent or reckless behavior
- Extremely agitation, anxiety, panic
- Employee seems confused, disoriented, or illogical
- Suspected alcohol or drug intoxication, obvious impairment at work.
These can include your organization’s Employee Assistance Program, Human Resources Department, Security Office, and Health Unit if available. Most communities have a mental health crisis center and it’s a good idea to keep the number on hand. Anyone who seems to be experiencing a mental health crisis can be advised to go to the nearest hospital emergency room (have employee call a family member to take them, if necessary). For any situation which looks like a possible medical crisis, or one where there is a threat of violence or self-harm, call 911.