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Managing the Troubled Employee

The Faculty and Employee Assistance Program is an excellent resource for all supervisors or managers when they encounter an employee who has performance problems.  Your responsibility, as supervisor, is to develop employees and monitor their performance.  This places you in a pivotal position to observe changes in behavior and the emergence of personal, family, or drug and alcohol problems.

Encouraging troubled employees to take the first steps in using available resources, such as FEAP, to address these problems may not only help in resolving the performance issues, but may be the most important role you will play with this employee.

How to Recognize and Address Performance Problems

One of the most difficult aspects of supervising people is recognizing and managing the troubled employee. In working with people, it is important to be aware of certain indicators that may suggest that an employee is experiencing difficulty in performing the job. Often the employee will start to exhibit a pattern of performance problems over time.

A common error is to assume that an employee's problem is not serious because performance is not significantly impaired. A change in job performance is often the last symptom exhibited when an employee has a personal problem.

The Checklist of Unsatisfactory Job Performance outlines specific areas and examples of performance issues that may indicate supervisory intervention.

How to Confront the Troubled Employee

Your goal as manager is to confront undesirable job behaviors, not attempt to determine why or to diagnose.  To confront in this sense means to help the employee come face to face with his/her behaviors.  Many supervisors put off confronting an employee, but they should attempt to correct the problem when it is first recognized.  The sooner a problem is acknowledged, the sooner performance can improve.  Feeling inadequate is okay.  At times it is very uncomfortable discussing problem performance with employees.  There are resources to help, however.

What is important is that you do not let your discomfort stop you from doing your job.  Now is a good time to "take your pulse" and see how you are feeling.  Feelings of frustration are best resolved before meeting with the employee.

The checklist Assess Your Confrontation Style can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in this area. These statements summarize characteristics of an effective management style. Here are two additional tools that will help in preparations for constructively addressing performance problems with employees:

How to Conduct the Corrective Interview

Planning the Corrective Interview:

  • Compare and document job performance against standards/expectations
  • Review employee file and policy/procedure; discuss with HR, management, or FEAP (Faculty and Employee Assistance Program) as necessary
  • Discuss with FEAP whether a formal referral to FEAP might be indicated
  • Schedule meeting at a time and place that provides privacy. Give employee advance notice of the meeting and it’s purpose to allow time to prepare
  • Be prepared to deal with resistance, denial, or hostility. Employee Defense Strategies can help managers prepare for possible responses. Keeping on track is key.

Performing the Corrective Interview:

  • Create a sincere, open atmosphere
  • Review purpose of meeting and share concerns in specific, behavioral terminology
  • Keep focus on job performance; Note job requirements and specific improvements needed
  • Present facts using documentation you have compiled
  • Encourage employees to discuss/respond to concerns; Full discussion is critical
  • Listen!
  • Agree upon action plan with time frames
  • Discuss consequences of failure to improve

When addressing an employee who is exhibiting performance problems, it is very important to have documentation of the specific performance issues, as well as the steps you, as supervisor, have taken to address these issues with the employee.

How To Document Employee Performance

There are two types of documenting that managers and supervisors employ:

Informal documentation is for the manager's or supervisor's own records. It documents performance or behavior problems amongst their employees, enabling them to look for patterns and monitor and assess changes over time. This type of documentation allows the manager/supervisor to be proactive in preventing problems from becoming more severe.

Formal documentation is that required by Human Resources to establish a record for taking possible disciplinary or administrative action with regard to an employee performance problem. This type of documentation carries detailed and specific requirements, usually spelled out by employment policy. While FEAP can provide guidance, it is necessary to contact your Employee Relations or Human Resources department to learn the specifics and to acquire knowledge about the impact of such action.

Follow Up the Corrective Interview

Monitor employee’s performance with respect to problem(s) discussed and documented in the corrective interview, giving a reasonable time for improvement. Employees may at times require reminders about performance expectations or appropriate behavior. Once reminded, improvement should result. Employees should be given periodic feedback about their progress.

If the problem does not improve or gets worse, there may be a personal problem that is contributing to poor performance. The Faculty and Employee Assistance Program (FEAP) or your Human Resources department can help.

At times, an employee who is experiencing performance problems may have personal problems that are interfering with his/her ability to function effectively on the job.  If you suspect that there may be personal issues contributing to the job performance, refer the employee to FEAP.

How To Refer an Employee to FEAP

Employees can access the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program in a variety of ways.  They may self-refer at any time.  Co-workers, family, or friends can encourage the use of FEAP.  Supervisors can refer formally or informally as noted below.

Formal vs. Informal FEAP Referral

The informal referral is made when you become aware that the employee has a personal problem but the problem is not affecting performance. A manager may remind the employee about the FEAP and encourage them to take advantage of the program. Realize that the employee may not choose to use FEAP.

A formal referral to FEAP is made when there are performance problems. The manager would first contact the FEAP to discuss the employee and performance problems and explore whether a formal referral is appropriate. During a corrective interview, the manager will tell the employee of the formal referral to the FEAP and encourage them to use the program. The advantage of the formal referral is that the FEAP counselor will let you know whether or not the employee follows through (with the proper release of information).

FEAP can be reached by dialing (434) 243-2643.

How To Intervene With an Employee Who May be Impaired

Alcohol/Drug problems are difficult to address as managers grapple with conflicting concerns:

  • Fear of being wrong, false accusations
  • Fear of negligence charge; possible accident or harm if problem not recognized and acted upon
  • Avoidance due to close personal relationships

Steps to take to address possible impairment:

  • Never attempt to diagnose the problem.  Stick with objective, observable behavior.  Many things could cause a person to appear impaired such as physical problems, medical, psychiatric illness, or substance abuse; don't jump to conclusions.
  • Always take action if you are concerned about impairment; never allow someone who appears to be impaired to perform a safety sensitive job or drive home.
  • Know and follow your organization's policy for addressing drug testing.
  • Get another manager or supervisor to corroborate your observations.
  • Document observations objectively; no judgments as to reasons.
  • Meet with employee privately.  Relate the observations you have noted.  These should be both behavioral and performance related.  Ask for reasonable explanation of behavior (i.e. slurred speech could be caused by dental work)
  • Maintain strict confidentiality; need to know basis only.
  • Refer impaired employee to FEAP as appropriate per policy or procedure.