Signs of Mental Health or Substance Abuse Issues

How prevalent are mental health and substance abuse issues in the workplace?

Let’s look at some staggering figures:

  • Behavioral health issues are the most costly medical condition in the country.1
  • Stress is the root cause of about 75% of doctor’s visits.2
  • Mental health is at the root of 12.5% of all emergency room visits.3
  • 5% of workers have abused alcohol or elicit drugs in the past year.4
  • 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.5

Why is it important to have a strong Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? The easy answer is “because it’s the right thing to do!” Assisting an employee in need is an important part of a manager’s job. When done right, an EAP can help get a valued employee back on track.

Sometimes employees don’t know about the EAP or are afraid to trust the confidentiality of the program. Managers can help direct someone to the EAP while putting his or her mind to rest. Managers who help someone get assistance often end up with a very loyal employee and a greater sense of purpose in their own lives.








Receiving a Harassment Complaint (Part 3)

In my last blog, I reviewed the impact that harassment can have on an individual and the organization. When an individual comes to make a complaint of harassment you will not have time to prepare. That’s why the pro-active steps outlined in “Harassment in the Workplace” Part #1 are so important.

If an employee comes to you to discuss a complaint of harassment, make time to talk to the employee immediately, explain the company’s harassment policy, take thorough notes of what the employee says, and get the complaint to human resources for an investigation. These are just some of the things that managers need to do. However, there are certain things that a manager should not do when an employee comes forward.1

  • Don’t put off the discussion. Make the time. The employee may not come back if you put it off.
  • Don’t promise the employee that the complaint will be kept confidential. That’s not possible because an investigation will have to be conducted. You can explain that the information will be shared only on a “need to know” basis.
  • Don’t interrupt the employee. Let the employee share his or her perspective.
  • Don’t wait to write down what the employee says. Write it down while the employee is speaking but if that’s not possible, do it shortly thereafter.
  • Don’t speculate or embellish. Write down the words the employee used and the words you heard.
  • Don’t ask judgmental questions. e.g. “Couldn’t you have just talked to your colleague instead of making a complaint”?
  • Don’t offer explanations or excuses for the conduct the employee is complaining about. You could be viewed as trivializing the complaint or questioning the employee’s honesty.
  • Don’t promise a particular end result. The company needs to investigate.
  • Don’t give advice to the employee.
  • Don’t forget to tell the employee to contact you or HR if the inappropriate behavior continues.
  • Other than human resources, don’t talk to anyone else about the allegations. Do not tell the person who is being accused. You could undermine an investigation, and doing so will be used against you if litigation is filed later.

You may have a hard time believing that discrimination or harassment could be happening within your group. Keep an open mind and treat every person who comes forward with dignity and respect. Don’t come to any conclusions until your investigation is complete.

As always, check with your HR department regarding their policies and practices.



1. Portions of this blog were extracted from an article by Deborah C. England (Nolo) and Barrie Gross | In: Women in Business





The Impact of Harassment in the Workplace (Part 2)

In my last blog we discussed a variety of topics that fall under the larger umbrella of a respectful workplace. In this blog we will highlight the impact of harassment on the individual and the organization. Need a refresher on what constitutes harassment?

Impact on the individual

  • Humiliation, embarrassment, and shame
  • Loss of dignity, confidence and self-esteem
  • Feelings of exclusion and isolation
  • Poor health, depression and anxiety
  • Anger and resentment
  • Damage to professional reputation and career
  • Lowered morale, concentration and productivity

Impact on the Organization

  • Productivity losses and decreased morale
  • Increased turnover and absenteeism
  • Negative publicity, including loss of customers/clients
  • Cost – if legal action is taken costs can skyrocket

Why Harassment is Hard to Report

A survey based on over 2,000 full and part-time female employees found that one in three women between the ages of 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work, but only 29% reported the issue while 71% did not. (Vagianos, 2015)

When a victim of harassment comes forward, he or she has spent anxious time weighing the risks of lodging a formal complaint. Some concerns may include:

  • “Things are bad now but will they be worse afterwards?”
  • “I’m too embarrassed by what happened to let anyone know about it.”
  • “What will it do to my career? Will my boss believe me? Will there be retaliation?”

What if the employee has chosen you as the person to talk to? The pressure is on.

My next blog will focus on the conversation with the employee who has come forward.

Harassment in the Workplace (Part 1)

Supervisors and managers have a higher level of accountability when it comes to creating a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination. Despite your best efforts to create a respectful work environment, you may one day be faced with an employee complaint that he/she is experiencing harassment in the workplace. Being pro-active and knowing the role and responsibilities you have as a manager will help make a challenging situation less stressful.

What can you do now to be prepared?

  • Increase your knowledge around the importance, nuances and laws regarding diversity, inclusion, and harassment within the workplace.
  • Review your responsibility in contributing to a respectful workplace.
  • Become familiar with your organization’s policies on harassment and the reporting protocol to be followed when a complaint is brought forward.
  • Understand your organization’s expectations regarding your role and responsibilities as a manager.
  • Learn about your personal and professional liability.
  • Notice situations that may have the potential of escalating and talk with your HR professional to get advice and understand his or her role in the process.

What is harassment?

An employee who is feeling harassed will most likely describe the experience by referencing some of the terms highlighted below. These terms are important to be familiar with in addressing a complaint and in promoting professional behavior within your workgroup.

  • Diversity is the existence of many unique individuals in the workplace. This includes men and women from different countries, cultures, ethnic groups, generations, backgrounds, skills, abilities, and all the other unique differences that make each of us who we are.
  • Inclusion means a work environment where everyone has an opportunity to fully participate in creating business success and where each person is valued for his or her distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives
  • Stereotypes are an exaggerated or oversimplified idea about a person or groups of people involving gender, race, national origin, or other factors. Even so-called positive stereotypes can be harmful due to their limiting nature.
  • Prejudice is an adverse judgment or opinion formed before facts are known; a bias without reason.
  • Discrimination is the treatment of people based on their belonging to a particular group.
  • Harassment is any unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of people in the workplace. It may be related to sex, sexual orientation, race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, genetics, veteran’s status, disability, age religion, nationality, or any personal characteristic of the individual. Bullying, gossiping, inappropriate comments, or communications can embarrass, diminish, or destroy others. It may be recurring or an isolated incident.

In my next blog post I will focus on the impact of harassment in the work environment.

“I Should Have Called the EAP.”

We frequently hear from employees or supervisors, “I probably should have called the EAP a year ago (or five years ago).” So why is it so hard to reach out for help?  Part of the answer is human nature. We hope things will get better in time and we avoid dealing with difficult issues. In the midst of personal difficulties, we may forget about the resources available to help us.  There may also be a concern on the part of the employee that the EAP is really confidential. (It is!)

What can managers and supervisors do to encourage employees to seek help sooner?

  1. Managers and supervisors can encourage employees to use their benefit programs. They can make sure that employees understand how the EAP works and how easy it is to access services.
  2. Managers who have used the service themselves can talk about a time that they were helped by the EAP, even if it was for help finding childcare or a legal consultation.  These frequent reminders about the EAP can help ensure that employees remembers about the benefits when they are needed.
  3. Managers and supervisors can consult with the EAP as soon as they are aware of an employee’s personal problems. The EAP can help managers figure out the best way to refer an employee to the EAP, what language to use, and how to reassure the employee about the confidential nature of the service.
  4. Managers and leadership can try to reduce the stigma associated with serious problems such as substance use and behavioral health concerns by providing education and information to employees. Part of this education is to understand that substance use and behavioral health concerns take time to heal, similar to heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

We live in a difficult time of escalating personal issues such as opioid use and workplace violence. Leadership needs education from the EAP in how to recognize signs and symptoms of substance use and behavioral health concerns. The EAP can help with strategies to help individual employees and organizations maintain a healthy workforce.


4 Considerations for Managers When Referring to an EAP

Managers and supervisors are often in the best position to spot an employee who is struggling with a personal or work issue. A supervisory referral to the EAP may be formal or informal. In both cases, a referral to the EAP may be the most helpful action to take when someone is struggling on the job.  Here are 4 considerations:

  1. An informal supervisory referral occurs when a manager mentions the availability of the EAP to an employee. Examples of these referrals include a manager saying, “Are you aware that we have an EAP?” or, “Have you thought about calling the EAP to get some help for your problem?” Follow-up on these statements in subsequent weeks is important.
  2. A formal supervisory referral most often occurs when there is a documented performance issue and disciplinary action is needed. The employee must be made aware of this process from the beginning.
  3. Few supervisory referrals are mandatory. Mandatory referrals must be supported by a strong company policy and are only used when there are safety sensitive situations. In most cases, managers may “strongly suggest” the EAP during progressive discipline, but it should be the employee’s choice to use the EAP.
  4. When a manager is considering a referral, a heads-up to the EAP is strongly encouraged. It gives the EAP and the manager an opportunity to discuss the situation and plan next steps. For example, the manager can be coached on how to talk with the employee about about signing a release of information.

Partnering with an EAP on a successful referral can be one of the most gratifying events in a manager’s professional life. There is really nothing more rewarding than connecting an employee with the right help at the right time. Managers have the opportunity to prevent a problem from becoming bigger, or perhaps even save a life, by helping an employee receive appropriate help.


Time Management Through Self-Awareness

Time management is really about how we manage ourselves. It’s about how we focus, how we discipline ourselves, and how we stick to habits that we know work. Managers have the added challenge of knowing their team is observing their habits and behaviors. Like it or not, employees watch their managers for tips on how to do it right.

How can you be sure that you’re setting a good example?

  1. Take quiet time at the beginning and end of each day to reflect on your accomplishments.
  2. Do your most creative work when you are at your peak energy time of the day.
  3. Slow down and be mindful about your behavior at work. Take plenty of quiet moments to reflect on your project list and to-do list to be sure they are tied to the bigger strategic picture.
  4. Don’t rush around. If you are feeling under pressure, take some deep breaths in private or take a walk. Our judgment is one of the first things that gets affected by rushing and chaos. If you show how stressed you are, your employees will feel stressed too.
  5. Delegate! If there is something on your list that could be a development opportunity for one of your employees, give it up. Set up a time to talk about the project and help your subordinate develop a winning project plan.
  6. Keep open spaces in your calendar so you can maintain a good perspective and are prepared for the unknown.
  7. Take care of yourself. Schedule in exercise, relaxation, thinking time, and plan ahead so these event become part of your schedule. Think about and make a plan to ensure healthy eating both at work and at home.
  8. Share your time management tips with your employees and encourage them to share theirs. Together you can create an environment of time management best practices. Much of time management comes from inside, rather than out. Once you change your own behavior, you’ll be surprised at the impact it will have on others.

To talk to someone about time management, consider calling your EAP. Sometimes an impartial person can help you think creatively change, particularly when it’s about changing your own behavior.


The New Time Management

In the past, time management advice was fairly simple – “Get a day planner and use it!”  Planners provided a place to take notes, establish to-do and project lists, and a paper calendar for meetings.

Over the last decade, day planners were replaced with a variety of electronic tools such as apps and electronic calendars.  The new time management system is much more individualistic.  Your personality and behavioral habits determine what tools work for you and no two organizational systems are exactly alike.

In addition to technology, other changes in time management occurred:

Work-life integration: The goal of good time management was to help people separate and balance their work and their personal lives. Technology has allowed people to integrate work and life, creating a whole new paradigm. With that change comes the good and the bad. There’s more flexibility to address personal issues during the workday, but work is more likely to invade personal space.

Multitasking: Once seen as a badge of courage, it is now known that multitasking is not effective as staying focused on one task. This has prompted many people to start scheduling an “interruption-free” zone, to do work. New research in  distractibility has also helped to reinforce the notion that multitasking was never an effective way to be productive.

Mindfulness: The Mindfulness revolution is partly fueled by the findings of renowned researchers who can show that a mindful meditation practice can improve focus and productivity for anyone who gives it a try. It turns out that brains can be trained to get off of autopilot and focus on what’s most important. This can be useful for both home and work.

How should managers help their direct reports become more effective time managers?

  1. Model good time management for your staff.  Be organized, keep track of delegated projects, and start meetings on time.
  2. Recognize the unique needs of each direct report.
  3. Observe the habits of your subordinates and talk to them about which tools are working for them.
  4. Establish some norms for good time management within your group. This might include some guidelines for calendaring, project lists, and team document sharing.  The guidelines could also include suggestions such as scheduling travel time or 30-minute lunch breaks into the calendar, building shared group agendas for meetings, or guidelines for sending emails between certain hours.
  5. Offer training to your direct reports in the new time management.

Good time management is a win-win for managers and individuals. It’s a conversation worth having.


How’s Your Workload?

Are you overworking? Do you expect your team to keep up with you? There is evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that overworking creates “a pattern of deteriorating performance on psychophysiological tests as well as possible injuries.”

In four separate studies, it was found that overwork was associated with feelings of decreased alertness, increased fatigue, lower cognitive function, and declines in vigilance on task measures.”

Ask yourself if your work schedule is setting the correct example for your team. If not, it may be time to make some of your own personal changes.

If your work hours are under control, but you are concerned about others on your team, now may be the time to approach members of your team about workload. You may have noticed excess stress, heard complaints from others, or simply observe someone who is putting in more hours than you feel is required to get the job done.

Here are some suggestions for having a productive conversation with members of your team.

  1. Express concern regarding the number of hours you see your employee working and ask how you can help him/her manage their current workload. If you are in the habit of working long hours, be clear regarding your personal work habits versus your expectations of others.
  2. Schedule a private time with the employee and ask him/her to bring their project and to-do list to the meeting so you can review it together.
  3. Acknowledge your employee’s workload concerns and state your concerns. Calibrate around the concerns and see if he/she has a solution in mind.
  4. Whether you have a ready solution or not, you need more time to investigate. Tell the employee that you will circle back in a week. Set a time on your calendars before the meeting ends.
  5. Be sure to compliment the employee on what is being accomplished and again offer your support in helping the employee establish a better work-life balance.

Once there is an adjustment to workload, it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. Workload is an outcome of a constantly changing environment and will undoubtedly get imbalanced again.

4 Ways that Managers Can Help Employees Cope with Terrorism

A terrorist attack can affect a community in ways that undermine our sense of safety and security at home and at work. The impact of an attack can be significant and far reaching for your employees, but managers can help employees cope and manage feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

If you have employees traveling internationally, they or their families may be fearful after an event like the one in Paris. Furthermore, employees in the USA may have friends or family affected by these events as well.

A manager’s response can set the tone for the future, supporting the workplace culture in a positive way as well as helping employees tap into their resiliency skills.

What practical steps can a manager take?  Here are four actions to consider.

1. Step up and take action. Connect with your leadership to form a coordinated response. Consider both the business impact and the human response.

2. Focus on the wellbeing of employees. Think about people in your group that may be directly impacted by the event, such as people who are already struggling with difficult personal situations or individuals with direct ties to France.

3. Be visible and available with accurate and frequent communication. Keep checking in with people at risk to see how they are doing.  Most people bounce back after a crisis but some may need more support than others.

4. Remind people about the EAP and make the phone number and email address easily accessible.  Call for assistance yourself if you need consultation.

The following 3 minute video provides more information about how business leaders can help their organization respond effectively to a crisis.