Human-resource departments are versed in dealing with substance-abusing or psychologically troubled employees, but what do they do if the troubled employee is the boss or higher up? Dealing with an impaired executive presents a unique set of challenges. The executives' position can sometimes protect them from the consequences of poor performance, in part because others in the company may be reluctant to discuss the problem directly. Questions may also arise about the employee's right to privacy, regardless of position. Additionally, the organization's culture may discourage employees from speaking up. They may fear retaliation.
Because an impaired member of management can have a profoundly negative impact on a company, we asked Robert Mines, Ph.D., an employment expert from Littleton, CO who has written about this topic, to discuss the implications of a troubled executive on an organization, and human resources specifically, and to offer some advice.
What is Impairment?
Dr. Mines defines impairment as "any inability to perform one's job duties due to cognitive, emotional or physical problems such as an addiction, medical condition, or psychological problem."
What is the Potential Impact on an Organization?
C-Suite executives such as the CEO, CFO and CIO have the greatest influence on an organization, including its finances, culture, decision-making structure and strategic direction. Among the many reasons to be concerned is the possible loss of business, of talented employees, reputation and the cost of replacing these loses.
But the impaired performance of any employee who enjoys high-visibility and the trust, respect and friendship of colleagues can have an impact on an organization beyond his or her pay-grade. A horizontal organization in which employees work in teams, perform many different functions and report to several supervisors, rather than a single boss, requires a different response than more traditional vertical organizations with well-defined chains of command.
What Advise Can You Give?
While there is no single solution for dealing with these situations, Mines suggests being well-versed and prepared for a variety of reactions before approaching an impaired executive. For example:
• Know your environment: Who are the stakeholders and how actively are they involved in day-to-day management?
• Know what resources are available to the organization to address the problem: Do you have access to good legal advise, an in-house health unit or an EAP that can assist you? Have you made full use of the assistance that's available?
• Be thorough during the process: Make sure necessary documentation is in place and releases have been signed by a person(s) authorized to do so. Be particularly careful with respect to transparency and informed consent when sharing information with others--inside and outside the organization.
• Know your obligations and risks: What if any state or federal laws may be relevant to your situation? For example, is the person eligible for accommodation under the Americans for Disability Act (ADA)? Is The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) a consideration? What professional or ethical codes may come into play?
• Be crystal clear: Set boundaries, be clear about the roles of those involved and be as straightforward as possible in order to develop trust and rapport with all involved. Finally, be clear on the outcome you want.
If you'd like more information about this topic, contact Robert Mines.
Robert Mines is CEO of Mines and Associates in Littleton, CO. Edited by Greg Kelly.
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