Helping a Troubled Employee

Employees may occasionally be less productive than usual or may disclose that they're stressed or going through a difficult time in their lives. They might even have a crisis or "meltdown" while at work. As their manager, you may suggest that they visit with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor to assist them in meeting their challenges. Use the following resources to guide you through the process of referring troubled employees to the EAP.


Note: If there's a highly distressing incident or disruption in the workplace, you should call the EAP to determine whether a threat assessment or fitness for duty assessment is called for. If the incident involves direct or indirect threats or actual violence toward university property or other people, call 911 immediately.

Step 1: Observe employee behavior

Observe employees' behavior or recall recent behavior and look for a pattern, not a single event. You are looking for changes—behaviors that deviate from the norm for that particular employee. It could be absenteeism, confusion, tearfulness, lowered job efficiency, or deterioration of relationships. When you notice a pattern of changes, take steps to gather your thoughts.

Step 2: Gather your thoughts

Organize your thoughts. Your goal is to eventually provide objective feedback to the employee, so you want to identify things you can see with your eyes or hear with your ears. You should never diagnose or interpret any observable behavior—simply gather your thoughts about what specific changes you have seen or heard.

Step 3: Approach

Once you gather your thoughts, approach the employee and provide feedback based on the changes you have observed. This step could be referred to as "holding up a mirror" because you're allowing the employee to see his or her behavior as others do. For this step, the EAP recommends saying something like the following:

"I'm concerned about you. I'm concerned about you as a person because I do care that you seem to be having some difficulties. I'm also concerned as a manager because there is work that needs to be done. Here are some things I've noticed over the past couple of weeks (days)."

As you state the examples of things you've noticed, you may want to give this feedback similarly to the following statement:

"You've been returning late from lunch for the past three days. Over the past week, you've been tearful on four separate occasions that I've observed. You've had lengthy and sometimes loud personal telephone conversations. When you've been asked to perform routine tasks in a timely manner, you became upset and ran out of the office slamming the door behind you."

Step 4: Refer

In this step, you are referring the employee to the EAP for help with personal concerns so that you can remain focused on work-related issues. An example of how you might say this is:

"These sorts of behaviors are not like your usual behavior. I'm concerned there may be personal issues that are affecting your ability to stay focused on your work. I'd like you to know about the Employee Assistance Program on campus. Their phone number is 512-471-3366. It's confidential, you can speak with them during work hours, and you'll be talking with people who have the training and skills to help. They can help you with any personal concerns, and you and I can work together to make sure the work gets done."

Give the employee an EAP postcard and a link to the EAP counseling information on this website. If you'd like, you can ask employees to bring you a letter documenting that they've visited or spoken with the EAP office on the phone. The EAP won't share any of the information they discussed with employees due to confidentiality, but the letter will document that the employee has seen or spoken with a counselor at the EAP and you can use the letter for time-keeping purposes if necessary. Remember: it is university practice that employees are permitted to visit the EAP on work time when they receive your permission to do so.

Handling Health-related Problems

If employees tell you that they have an illness that is affecting them at work, you should refer them to the Center for Access and Restorative Engagement at 512-471-1849 to discuss possible accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Step 5: Follow Through

Now that you've done the hard part, remember to follow through with your employees' status and progress. If you refer people to the EAP but don't follow through with clarification of performance expectations, employees will deduce that you aren't serious about work-performance issues. By providing clarity of expectations and increasing structure or face time during a difficult period, you can support employees in their work responsibilities while the EAP assists them with their personal concerns. You can consult HR's Strategic Workforce Solutions for help monitoring work performance and workplace conduct by calling 512-475-7200.