It’s no secret – most managers dread initiating difficult conversations with their employees. And no conversation is more difficult to start than when a manager suspects an employee has a drug or alcohol problem.
You’re well aware of the effects of employee substance abuse. The consequences run from performance issues to behavior problems to absenteeism.
What to say, what to avoid
How do you broach this topic with an employee? Robert Yagoda, executive director of Beach House Center for Recovery, shared some tips in his column at U.S. News & World Report’s health news site on how to legally and effectively attack this issue.
Some of Yagoda’s best advice for managers:
- Gather evidence. Document all performance problems with complete dates and times.
- Meet face to face. Don’t let the problems fester. Meet to discuss the person’s performance, which leads us to …
- Stick to performance. Unless you’ve seen and documented that the person’s been impaired on the job, don’t suggest he or she has a substance abuse problem. Keep the conversation to performance and what happens if problems aren’t corrected.
- Mention your EAP. Inform the employee that if he or she needs help, your EAP is there to offer it. But, again, be careful not to infer that the employee has a substance abuse problem.
- Expect denial. Denial is a common reaction to confrontation in substance abusers – as a matter of fact, it’s a key component of addiction. So when an employee refuses to admit he/she has a problem and scoffs at getting help from an EAP, the supervisor should continue to document problems and discipline the employee if necessary.
- Stand firm. It’s human nature to want to help someone in need, but don’t enable the person by reassigning the employee’s essential duties to others, and don’t make excuses for the employee.
- Get help when problems arise. If a person shows up intoxicated, for example, the manager needs to be ready to refer him or her to your EAP (or HR).