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City of Albuquerque, New Mexico

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    Albuquerque, NM

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    Public Administration

City of Albuquerque, New Mexico: How to Be an Effective Supervisor — Utilize Your EAP

When a manager is concerned about an employee’s mental well-being, it makes discussions about potential disciplinary actions all the more difficult. The City of Albuquerque’s manager of employee assistance programs (EAPs) offers ideas from her many years of experience in helping the City’s managers talk with employees about declining performance.

Everyone you supervise has at least one personal problem, and so do you.

All of your employees are survivors of some sort of difficulty, and so are you.

Life is a tough place to be. When you practice compassion for your employees, you show concern for their suffering and are inclined to offer support and give assistance. This is empathy in action, and it describes what an understanding supervisor looks like. If you are willing to empathize with the employee you want to supervise, you have a great opportunity to become an effective supervisor. As you read on, start thinking about what you value in life and what characteristics of your personality you are developing to become the person you want to be. The words you use and how you behave comprise the legacy of how you will be remembered when you are gone.

Being an effective supervisor requires some basic skills:

  • Monitoring the attendance, performance, and behavior of your staff. This requires paying attention to people and caring about them and their work.

  • Documenting work performance problems. This includes, but is not limited to, absenteeism, negative attitudes and punishing behaviors, accidents, errors, interpersonal conflicts, tardiness, low productivity, poor decision-making skills, and unprofessional behavior.

  • Talking with the employee about your concerns. This requires supportive dialogue with the goal of solving the problem. You can be specific because you have been documenting the problem and can give the employee examples of unacceptable behavior. Show concern, and remember to practice compassion. Note: It is a generally accepted best practice to meet with your employees on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for private supervision meetings, even if they only last 20 minutes. This practice minimizes the possibility of issues “piling up” or simply not being addressed.

  • When discussing ongoing performance problems, employees will often give excuses, become defensive, or even begin to cry. This is when you utilize one of your most effective tools—the EAP (employee assistance program). EAP professionals can give you guidance on how, as a supervisor, to address these situations and how to handle your own emotions. You might also want to refer the employee to the EAP to work on issues that may be affecting their job performance. This would be considered a “management referral.” (See “EAP Referral Definitions” in inset box.)

Here is an example of how to begin a difficult conversation with an employee about continued problems with his work performance, despite your previous guidance and coaching. You anticipate that he may have emotional difficulties that affect his appropriately hearing the message or responding to the feedback. You feel that a referral to the EAP is the next step to help this employee with his work performance.

Remember, you do not need to diagnose what may be wrong with the person. Your job is to pay attention to him and identify that he is having problems. It is the job of the EAP to help employees change when they have been unable to self-correct and regulate themselves on their own.

Here is the supervision between Josie, the supervisor, and Matt, the employee:

Josie: Matt, I want to begin our supervision today by thanking you for all of the extra effort you put into our project last week. I noticed you worked late most of the week and made sure the team met the deadline. Good job! I appreciate your focus and tenacity.

Matt: No problem. I’d rather be here than at home, anyway.

Josie: I am still having concerns about your behavior with coworkers. I have talked with you three times before about how you monopolize conversations and don’t let others get a word in, interrupting other people when they are talking, losing your temper easily and frequently, and criticizing excessively and finding fault with others. I witnessed these behaviors last week, despite your saying that you would stop acting like this and would be more professional by acting politely and being more formal in your relationships here. I am not seeing you make this change. I am alarmed and concerned for the coworkers you are impacting by acting this way.

Matt: You would act this way too, if you had to live my life. Try walking a mile in my shoes!

Josie: I figured you could use some help in making changes, so I called the EAP and made a telephone appointment. The counselor is sitting at her desk waiting for my call. I suggest that we begin a conversation with the EAP so you can get assistance to behave in a way that shows respect for other people here. I don’t want to write you up and discipline you, but I will have to if I don’t see change. I want you to succeed, Matt, and the EAP can help you with whatever problems you may be having.

This is how you practice your own values (e.g., wisdom, friendliness, compassion, professionalism) as a supervisor and make an effective referral to the EAP rather than simply handing an employee a brochure or saying, “I think you should call.” Valuing and behaving in an assertive manner as the supervisor can not only help an employee improve their performance, it can be a life-changing intervention.

Value your employees and refer to the EAP. Your responsibility as a supervisor includes creating a safe and effective work environment for your entire staff. Your EAP is a good resource and a reminder that none of us can be successful by ourselves. No one can possibly live a life of quality by going it alone. We all need assistance sometimes.

EAP Referral Definitions:

Management Referral – Referrals to the EAP that are initiated by an employee’s manager/supervisor because of performance or conduct concerns. Such referrals can be oral or in writing and are not considered disciplinary actions.

Mandatory Referral – A referral by the supervisor to the EAP for an employee’s positive drug test or other events designated by the organization. While this referral to the EAP is mandatory, there is no authority or requirement to compel an employee to partake of EAP services, which are voluntary. Failure to do so, however, may have adverse consequences for the employee. (Source: Employee Assistance Society of North America 2009. “Selecting and Strengthening Employee Assistance Programs: A Purchaser’s Guide”)

The City of Albuquerque uses an internal model for its employee assistance program. In other words, its internal manager, Julia Bain, provides direct services and supervises two additional EAP staff professionals who counsel employees in areas such as workplace and family conflict, trauma, and crisis response. Bain also provides regular training and communication materials for supervisors and the entire City workforce.

  • Additional information about EAPs and different EAP models

  • Research on EAP practices

  • Selecting and strengthening EAPs

About the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico

The City of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has 6,500 employees who serve its 546,000 citizens through many diverse departments, including animal welfare, cultural services, fire, emergency management, parks and recreation, police, senior affairs, and transit.

Julia Bain, Ph.D., L.P.C.C., N.C.C., C.E.A.P. is manager of the City of Albuquerque’s employee assistance program and employee health services.

Last Updated: July 2016

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