Frontline Supervisor: Alcohol and Your Employees

Frontline Supervisor: Alcohol and Your Employees

On 3 Dec 2015, in Management, Alcoholism, Workplace

Q. My fellow managers and I have been educated in the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse on the job, but isn’t the most important part of training learning to avoid being manipulated and dispelling misconceptions about alcoholism?

A. Knowing the signs, symptoms and workplace impact of alcohol use is important. However, it’s also important that you stay in control of a constructive confrontation with your employee by being on your guard against alcoholic manipulation and well-honed defense mechanisms. That will determine whether you are ultimately successful in making a supervisor referral, a referral for a drug test or are willing to take action in response to problematic events. Employees affected by addictive diseases rely upon their relationships with others to remain in denial, and to continue believing that they are in control of their alcohol use and an environment that wants to confront them about it. Consult with BJC EAP before meeting with your employee to discuss performance or conduct issues. Doing so will help keep you from being drawn into a subjective discussion that the employee is likely to control.

Q. Will all employees with alcoholism eventually have performance problems that the supervisor can identify, document and refer to BJC EAP?

A. Your question touches on two common myths about alcoholic employees. One assumes that alcoholics only experience performance problems later in their career histories. The other is that all alcoholics will experience performance problems at some point during their career histories. Some alcoholic employees enter treatment as a result of self-referral and non-work-related approaches. Many of these employees have no observable job performance problems prior to treatment. This does not mean, however, that they were not personally aware of performance problems. Some employees may perform adequately but never live up to their true potential. 1960s occupational alcoholism and EAP pioneer Lewis Presnall referred to this phenomenon as the “half-man syndrome.” Many years after recovery, it is not uncommon for employees to share stories about job-related performance issues associated with their drinking that others never noticed.

Q. If I refer an employee who happens to be alcoholic to BJC EAP for performance problems, how is it possible for the EAP consultant to successfully convince the employee that he or she needs treatment, especially if family or friends have never been successful?

A. Not every alcoholic employee who visits BJC EAP is motivated to enter treatment, but the EAP setting has advantages not available to friends or family members. These increase the likelihood of success. Advantages include the initial reason for the visit and the desire to resolve management’s concern about performance or behavior; the practitioner’s counseling skills; the employee’s lack of knowledge about alcoholism as a disease and its array of symptoms; and the employee’s willingness to accept the EAP consultant’s direction to enter treatment. The last of these is usually considered the most important because denial prevents acceptance of the illness, and an authentic desire to remain sober does not emerge until after treatment begins.



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