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 Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity

Student Employment
Workers' Comp

Employee Assistance Program: A Supervisor's Guide to Dealing with the Troubled Employee

Rev 7/96


Alternative Formats and Updates University of Minnesota Policy on the Employee Assistance Program
Using Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Personal Problems in the Workplace: From Erratic to Potentially Violent Behaviors
What are the Signs??
Types of Personal Issues Employees May Experience
Violence in the Workplace
Avoid the Tendency to Postpone Action
Performance Problems and When to Take Action
Preparing For and Making the Referral
Follow Through
Summary of Action Steps
Some Do's and Don'ts of Addressing Work Performance Issues
Campus Resources


Working with the troubled employee is one of the most difficult tasks the supervisor will encounter. Employees do not leave their personal problems at home. In addition, we live in a time of increasing workplace stress as well as increased need for a high degree of productivity from our employees.

The job of supervising employees is compounded by the need to be mindful of the rights of employees as well as our responsibility to provide a safe work environment. This guide is designed to assist supervisors who may be dealing with a troubled employee.

It is part of a more comprehensive support offered by the UMD Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity. In addition, individual consultation on all human resource matters concerning policies and rules governing disciplinary issues is available to you through your UMD Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity. It is not unusual to need the assistance of several different resources in the course of problem-solving around human resource issues.

Nothing in this guide is to be interpreted as constituting a waiver of the University's right to take corrective/disciplinary measures or an employee's right to grieve such actions through a collective bargaining agreement or an applicable University grievance procedure. I hope this guidebook is helpful to you.

EAP services are provided by:
The Sand Creek Group, Ltd.

Calls are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week for counseling or crisis services. Counseling and consultation services are available via telephone or in-person with a professional counselor. Appointments can be scheduled with counselors at a location convenient for you across greater Minnesota, in the Twin Cities or at the Donhowe Building on the Twin Cities campus.

University of Minnesota Policy on the Employee Assistance Program

The Board of Regents, central administration of the University of Minnesota, and UMD administration recognize that the effectiveness of the University as an organization depends on the effectiveness of its individual staff members. They also recognize that personal difficulties, from time to time, may hamper an individual's effectiveness on the job as well as his or her career development, personal happiness, and health. The University administration believes that it is in the interest of organizational effectiveness as well as in the interest of employees and their families that professional resources for personal problem solving be readily accessible.

Using the Employee Assistance Program

A. Scope of the Program

EAP provides a variety of services including problem assessment with individuals and groups, information about community resources, educational programs and appropriate referrals of individuals, couples or family members in need of help. It also assists deans, department heads, directors, managers, supervisors, and union representatives to respond more appropriately to employees who demonstrate deteriorating or unacceptable job performance or employment problems caused by personal, work-related, behavioral or medical reasons.

B. Referral Procedures

Any employee or family member/significant other can directly contact EAP. Employees with problems are especially encouraged to seek help before health or job performance is seriously affected. In addition, we encourage supervisors to consult with the counseling staff at EAP when concerned about the well-being of an employee. At the same time, a supervisor may not discipline an employee because the employee chooses not to use the EAP services.

Those consulting with EAP staff can expect the following:

  1. Privacy and confidentiality. All contact with EAP is treated privately and confidentially for all employees within limits as governed by federal and state laws. (An EAP counselor can explain these regulations to you.)
  2. The counseling staff of EAP will not tell you what to do, but rather help you find the process and solutions that are best for you.
  3. Human Resources and EAP will help you learn more effective means of intervening in a chronic behavior or performance program.
  4. Human Resources and EAP will continue to work with you or your employee until we find a meaningful solution to the problem.

Personal Problems in the Workplace: From Erratic to Potentially Violent Behaviors

Most supervisors enjoy working with people and are good at it. A troubled employee introduces patterns of emotionally volatile behaviors that can unsettle even the most confident person. The reason troubled employees can be such a challenge is the fact they are experiencing a great deal of personal discomfort in their own feelings; e. g. feelings (anger, hurt, sadness, rage) that they cannot easily change, but if not attended to may come into the workplace. The affects of personal problems will appear in the workplace in many forms—sometimes exhibited by failing performance, sometimes surfacing as behavior problems. In any case, it is the repeated pattern of poor performance or chronic behavior problems that we want to address.

Personal Problems: What are the Signs?

  • Absenteeism and tardiness
  • Job performance
  • Arriving late and leaving early
  • Increased operating errors
  • Unexplained absences
  • Increasingly unsatisfactory work quality
  • Friday and Monday absences
  • Faulty decision-making
  • Accidents both on and off work
  • Wasted materials

Interpersonal Interactions

  • Sudden emotional outbursts
  • Considerable mood swings
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Making inappropriate statements
  • Isolation from co-workers
  • Forgetfulness

Physical Appearance

  • Personal hygiene ignored
  • Less interest in dressing
  • "In a fog"
  • Shaking or nervous twitching
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Alcohol on breath

Again, it is not necessary to know the exact nature of the employee's personal problem in order to take action, or even that there is a personal problem. What you need to know is that the employee's job performance is failing and negative behaviors are adversely affecting performance.

Types of Personal Issues Employees May Experience

The following is meant only to give a broad idea of the variety of human problems that may appear in the workplace and is not meant to cover all the possible issues that may be present. Supervisors are not wanted nor expected to identify the employee's personal issues. On the other hand these are real human problems that could affect anyone from time to time. family and marital problems depression/anxiety chemical dependency identity issues grief and loss family violence harassment at work or elsewhere financial difficulties legal troubles job or career concerns separation and divorce stress, including post-trauma stress health problems

Violence in the Workplace

Most performance and behavior problems that employees may exhibit are troubling, but do not become dangerous. However, in some cases, violence in the workplace takes place as the result of a troubled personality festering in a hostile or indifferent environment. If there is tolerance for loud arguments, insults, or other forms of personal disrespect for one-another, behaviors can escalate. An employee who perpetrates violence will often test limits to see how much they can get away with. If you begin to think there is a problem with someone's behavior, you should deal with it as a performance issues as soon as you can.

The following are some of the warning signs suggesting the possibility of violent behavior in the workplace. They do not mean that violence is inevitable or even likely, but may be signs of a problem. If you believe some of these conditions exist in your operation, you should consults with EAP.

Interpersonal conflict with co-workers and supervisors
Inordinate supervisor's time coaching or counseling
Unwelcome sexual comments or threats of physical assault
A sense of persecution/injustice
Loner, decreased social support Holds grudges, especially against supervisors
Fascination with guns or other weapons
Continual excuses/blame—Inability to accept responsibilit for behavior
Unshakable depression—Expressions of cynicism or despair
Veiled threats - references to other workplace violence

Remember, it is natural to want to avoid the issue altogether; denial gives you some distance from your fear. However, if left untreated, chances are the behaviors will grow worse.

If confronted with a potentially violent situation do the following:

1. If there is an immediate crisis - call 9-911.

2. If you think some potential for violence exists, call the Campus Police, 726-7 000. A member of the team will get back to you as soon as possible and will give you guidance on handling the situation.

3. If you are concerned about someone's behavior and want to check out what you are experiencing, call the UMD Department of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity at 218/726-6326 or EAP at 888-243-5744 for consultation.

Avoid the Tendency to Postpone Action

After repeated attempts to coach an employee and apply corrective action, a supervisor may begin to doubt his or her own capabilities. If this happens the supervisor may then withdraw from the situation hoping the problem will go away or otherwise resolve itself. This is a normal human reaction to a difficult situation. What the supervisor needs is a new approach or strategy in taking on the troubled employee.

Supervisors have told us some of the reasons why they postpone action: They are too busy with more important things They don't want to hurt the employee's feelings They don't want to get involved in anyone else's personal problems They are afraid they will not have the backing of their boss They are afraid of the employee. They are afraid they will lose the argument They believe the employee will come around if given enough encouragement and support.

What the supervisor sometimes loses track of is the fact these problems may be dragging on for a long time. When this awareness becomes clear, then the supervisor can re-group and develop a new plan of attack. This is a point where the supervisor should contact the UMD Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity or EAP.

Performance Problems and When to Take Action

There are no absolute standards for acceptable or unacceptable performance. There are no absolute standards for appropriate or inappropriate behavior. Every person in every job must be able to tell when he or she has crossed or are in danger of crossing a line between acceptable and unacceptable actions at work. In addition, no one sees people or events objectively. People notice that which supports what they already believe.

We risk ignoring a problem with a "good" employee and note everything the "problem" employee does. We need to systematically note performance problems of all employees. In this way we must be extremely careful not to apply our own biases when evaluating our employees. The best way to avoid doing so is to consult with our own supervisors and with other University offices to review the situation and get an impartial point of view.

Patterns of poor work performance are usually caused by one or more of the following: a lack of competence, a lack of motivation (including values, goals, personal feelings), or a disinterest in the work. These are not personal problems, but rather the usual kinds of issues supervisors need to coach their employee about. However, if you address these performance issues with the employee and the performance or behavior problems continue, you can be more assured that you are dealing with a troubled employee.

Steps to consider in Preparing For and Making the Referral

1. Meet with the employee and discuss what performance and behavior issues concern you and ask for employee feedback. If the employee suggests workplace-related problems as the cause of the poor performance, look into these first. For example, an employee may blame the lack of up-to-date equipment or the lack of support from co-workers, or that someone is withholding important information relevant to that employee's job. Whatever the stated difficulty is, the supervisor should treat the reason seriously and correct it or rule it out.

2. The next step is to set clear standards for job performance and limits on workplace behaviors. (Do not hold people accountable for actions they could not predict would bring them trouble.)

3. Observe systematically and document immediately on behalf of all employees. Note the date of and the specific performance-related problem and the time you discussed this issue with the employee. What is important here is that you do this kind of documentation for all your employees.

4. If you have had a return to the same problem repeatedly or the employee tells you about a personal problem that is impacting his or her job, you have an opportunity to inform the employee about EAP. Make it clear that giving them this information is routine and that you want the employee to know about all the available resources. One of the distinguishing characteristics of supervising a troubled employee is that you will often need to return to the same performance-related problems.

Here are some of the situations you may encounter as you work with the troubled employee:

1. The employee may become overly defensive, angry, or begin to cry. You should inquire about the behavior and if the employee reveals a personal problem, inform him or her of EAP as a resource before continuing the performance review.

2. The employee may reveal to you the existence of a personal problem. It is okay to listen to the employee briefly describe whatever situation he or she is experiencing. You then have the opportunity to tell the employee you are sorry they are having a difficult time and that the EAP is designed to help employees with such issues.Let them know it is your job to monitor job performance and you will want the employee to work with you on a plan to improve his or her performance.

3. The employee may blame others for his or her poor performance. This may suggest more than one person is involved in the personal issue, or it may be an attempt to divert attention away from the employee. Either way, you will want to check it out to eliminate any workplace cause of the problem.

The following is a speech you can use - or modify to your own style - as an example of how to talk to an employee about a referral to EAP:

"Sometimes, work problems like these are the result of things that happen outside the University. Now this may not be true in your case, or you may feel it's really none of my business. However, because sometimes it is true, we have an Employee Assistance Program. It' s a confidential resource where no record of the meeting will go in your personnel file and it's free to you.

The program has helped faculty and staff with all kinds of problems and is very well thought of by employees who have used it. Whether you decide to use EAP is totally up to you. My main concern is that your work performance problems get corrected. Continuation of this situation will leave me no choice but to take further action."

Ideally, the employee's response to this information is to go to EAP, get the help he or she may need and bring their job performance up to standard. The employee may or may not tell you he or she went (or is going) to EAP. But the important thing is not so much going to EAP, but that his or her job performance is improving - this is really the only measure of success!

Follow Through

At the end of the performance evaluation meeting it is important to schedule a follow-up appointment with the employee in order to discuss the progress (or lack of progress) the employee is making. You will then be in the position to either acknowledge improvement in the job performance, or to proceed with disciplinary action. (If you need to proceed with disciplinary action it is important to contact UMD Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity on what steps to take.) If the employee brings up the personal problem and wants to discuss it with you, it is suggested you stop this line of discussion and point out to the employee that this is not your area of expertise and that you want to return the discussing job performance issues only.

Summary of Action Steps

Let's review some of the key action steps from the previous section:

Identify a job performance or behavior problem

Set clear standards for performance and limits on acceptable behavior

Take clear steps to rule out work-related causes of problems

If necessary, consult with your supervisor, the UMD Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity, EAP, or other appropriate office

Observe systematically and document immediately

Listen to employee's reasons, eliminate any work related issues, sympathize with any personal issues discussed by the employee and inform him or her about EAP, and make clear your role as supervisor

Work with the employee on a plan to improve performance

Schedule follow-up meeting to monitor progress

Some Do's and Don'ts of Addressing Work Performance Issues

DO - Establish the levels of work performance you expect. Set the limits that you will tolerate. Determine what is acceptable and unacceptable to you.

DO - Document patterns of poor job performance, including absenteeism, tardiness, and any disruptive behaviors.

DO - Be consistent. Treat all employees consistently.

DO - Care about the person and transmit this to him or her.

DO - Be prepared to deal with the employee's resistance and denial, as well as hostility. (Discussing this with the EAP counselor may help you deal with your own feelings and avoid a possible argument with the employee.)

DO - Avoid talking to the employee about personal problems. Refer him or her to EAP.

DO - Follow-up with the employee during regular intervals and provide feedback.

DON'T - Attempt to get involved in the employee's personal life.

DON'T - Moralize or make value judgments. Instead rely on specific work performance criteria.

DON'T - Permit the employee to box you in a corner. Appropriate behavior and job performance are always responsibilities of the employee.

DON'T - Make idle disciplinary threats. If you give a warning, follow through with it. Check back with the employee on specific dates to assess progress, or lack of progress being made.

DON'T - Cover up for the employee or accept weak excuses. If the employee is experiencing a personal problem, this will only prolong the agony.


UMD Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity
255 Darland Administration Building
1049 University Drive
Duluth MN 55812

St. Luke's Employee Assistance Program
220 North 6th Avenue East
Duluth, MN 55805
1-888-355-8495 (toll free)

Campus Police
287 Darland Administration Building
University of Minnesota, Duluth
Duluth, MN 55812

UAW Dislocated Worker Program
640 North Prior, Suite 122
St. Paul, MN
Support services for dislocated employees (including U of M AFSCME workers)

University of Minnesota/AFSCME
300 Hardman Avenue South Suite 3
South St. Paul, MN 55075-2470
Information on layoff and bumping procedures, contract interpretations
612-450-1908 fax

University of Minnesota Employee Benefits
Suite 100 Donhowe Building
Minneapolis MN 55455-0103
Information on health insurance, retirement and Lay-off/Non-Renewal Program

Disability Services Office
For questions and issues related to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

Alternative Assistance Program for Faculty and Academic Staff

PAVSA (Sexual Assault Victims Assistance)
24 hour crisis line

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The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Last modified on 12/07/16 01:07 PM
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