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Supervisory Briefing Tool

Today’s manager is short on time and long on responsibility. The stress of meeting deadlines, supervising staff and addressing unexpected challenges can take a toll on you and those you rely on most. That is why COPE has created an online supervisory briefing, designed to provide managers with practical, instructional information.

The 20 minute supervisory briefing which includes expanded information on individual topics is designed to allow you to go at your own pace, reading only the information that you need. And you can test your skills with regularly updated case studies located at the end of the briefing.

Additionally, the tool will:

  • Define Workplace and Employee Assistance
  • Identify common workplace challenges
  • Outline elements of a performance evaluation
  • Discuss the Do’s and Don’ts of the Corrective Interview
  • Explain how and when COPE can assist in the workplace

It’s a Management Tool

Wouldn't you like to have a place to turn to get assistance with employees who are experiencing personal or workplace problems that affect their ability to focus and succeed on the job?

Personal Issues:

  • Marital and Relationship Conflict
  • Family or Childcare issues
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Grief & Loss
  • Stress
  • Financial or Legal concerns
  • Substance Abuse

Workplace Issues:

  • Co-worker Conflict
  • Workplace Anger and Violence
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Chronic Employee Absenteeism
  • Critical Incidents at Work
  • Stress
  • Change Management
  • Drug-free Workplace

As a frontline manager, you depend on your employees to deliver quality work on time with a positive attitude. When they disappoint because of absenteeism, substandard work or a poor attitude you risk becoming angry, frustrated and distracted. You also risk transferring your negative attitudes onto others – at work or at home.

Workplace Assistance vs. Employee Assistance

Workplace Assistance delivers short term problem solving and resource identification to employees and managers in the workplace with the goal of managing everyday people problems more effectively. The desired outcome is enhanced morale and productivity.

Employee Assistance provides short-term counseling and problem-solving skills that are of a personal nature and may or may not impact work.

Both services are confidential and are typically paid for by the employer.

A Neutral, Confidential Business Partner

Ideally when there is a problem at work you and your employee can talk about what is happening in a way that resolves the problem. If successful, both of you will have learned something useful about the job and each other.

But what do you do with a highly disruptive, chronically troubled employee?

  • Go to your supervisor?
    a. Maybe you don't want to admit you cannot solve the problem.
  • Seek out Human Resources or Labor Relations?
    b. That may mean disciplinary action that you are not ready to take.
  • Practice the three “Ts”?
    c. Tolerate, terminate or transfer - which leads to stress and less success

When you call your COPE consultant, you can confer with a neutral party with workplace "people problems" experience. Our job is to help you assess the situation, recommend action, and coordinate with internal resources when necessary. "Workplace Assistance" is what the Employee Assistance counselor delivers when talking with you as a supervisor.

How does COPE fit into other resources?

COPE’s professionals are not part of management but rather are outside counselors and consultants. We do not set policy or make administrative decisions, but rather serve in an advisory capacity.

We are part of a "team" that includes:

  • Managers and Supervisors
  • Human Resource or Personnel Specialists
  • Labor Relations Specialists
  • Union Representatives
  • EEO Counselors
  • Occupational Health Teams
  • Legal Departments
  • Safety and Security Officials

When personal issues impact the workplace, the Workplace professional assists both employer and employee in resolving the workplace issues.

Employee Stress is Costly – COPE is not

Studies show that 20 percent of employees drive 80 percent of benefit costs. As these costs rise so too does their impact on company earnings. At the same time there is a growing body of literature that points to a strong connection between physical and mental health.

Consider these statistics:

  • Replacing employees who resign for work or family conflict reasons cost $4.9 billion each year (Ceridian Corporation)
  • 50% disability claims worldwide are the result of mental conditions (Murray & Lopez)
  • Behavioral problems are primarily driven by low identification and treatment (WHO. 2003)
  • Employees that use EAPs have shorter durations of disability leave (Hartford Life, 2007)

As a result, risk management skills, traditionally associated with financial planning and product design have moved into the field of human resources. Increasingly employers are re-assessing their employee risk management initiatives.

Workplace assistance programs like COPE’s offer a cost-effective way to assist at-risk employees. If you are faced with any of the above issues, or another workplace problem, consider contacting COPE for consultation. The COPE consultant's combined background in behavioral health and workplace issues contributes to a uniquely qualified management consultation resource.

Performance, Attendance and Conduct

When managing employees, supervisors and managers are expected to monitor and evaluate the following three areas of employee activity:

  1. Performance
    Is the Quantity, Quality, and Timeliness of the product or service provided acceptable?
  2. Attendance
    Is the Availability, Punctuality, and Daily Accessibility of the employee acceptable?
  3. Conduct
    Does the employee’s Demeanor enhance or inhibit the success of the work unit?

If you can focus only on these three areas of work-related problems, then you will have greater success in dealing with any given situation; and you’ll avoid other potential problems (such as claims of discrimination based on disability.)

As an example, do not tell the employee you think he or she has an "alcohol problem," or is "suffering from depression." Don't be drawn into the personal problems of employees. Stay in your role of supervisor and focus on workplace issues, such as performance, attendance, and conduct.

Systems and Standards of Conduct

Supervisors are expected to promptly address performance or conduct problems with employees. Such action is made legitimate within work organizations through the establishment of:

  • Performance Management Systems (PMS) and,
  • Standards of Conduct
  1. The Performance Management System (PMS) establishes performance standards that allow actual performance levels to be determined. Hence, one PMS outcome is the identification of employees that are not meeting performance expectations. Strategies can then be initiated to help employees restore performance to acceptable levels. Administrative action may also be imposed.
  2. Standards of conduct establish acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior. Discipline is generally applied episodically and is progressively intensified. The purpose is to motivate the employee to halt the offending conduct or behavior. Therefore, both of these systems provide a proactive management response when an employee develops a conduct problem and/or suffers a performance decline.

What is the Corrective Interview?

The setting for addressing a performance and/or conduct problem is the corrective interview. It is the discussion between a supervisor and an employee that is designed to accomplish the following:

  • Ensure that performance standards and/or conduct expectations are clear and understood.
  • Identify the conduct problem or the indicators of a performance decline.
  • Develop a plan of action, if appropriate.
  • Establish consequences if the problem continues.
  • Set a date for a follow-up discussion to assess progress and/or modify the plan, or initiate consequences.

Preparing for the Corrective Interview

  • Do not conduct it on the spur of the moment, particularly if you are angry. Take time to cool off.
  • Have documentable facts on which to base the discussion. (In that regard it is good to keep a weekly diary that highlights significant events or accomplishments that demonstrate when employees exceed your expectations or do not meet your expectations or the organization's standards of conduct.)
  • Be Specific. Specific instances are harder for an employee to dispute than are general, vague concerns. For example, it is better to say "You have been absent seven days in the past four weeks,” instead of "You've been out a lot over the past month or so."
  • Schedule the meeting in advance in your office or if your office is in an open area, secure a private room for the meeting.
  • Ensure that you will not be interrupted. Set aside one hour at minimum for the interview.
  • Consult with your Human Resources or Personnel Department if you plan on proposing or taking disciplinary or other administrative action to be sure that what you propose to do, in fact, can be done.
  • If you are going to suggest the employee use Employee Assistance, consult with your EA counselor prior to meeting with the employee. If you do not contact us before making the referral, we may not know that it is a "supervisory referral” and we may not know to ask the employee for permission to contact you. If you wait to call us until after we have met with the employee, we will not be able to share any information because of the rules of confidentiality.

You may want to consider making an outline of the interview before you proceed. This will help you organize your supporting material and your thinking.

An outline should include:

  • Reason for the interview
  • Review of the performance or conduct problems
  • Review of any previous actions taken to alleviate the problems
  • Opportunity for the employee to discuss his or her concerns
  • An agreement on the issues
  • Develop a plan to alleviate problems, if appropriate
  • Spell out consequences if problems continue - optional for a first interview.

Set dates for frequent and regular follow-up discussions. They should not be more than 30 days apart. If you find that your anxiety level is high (some anxiety is natural), you may want to review how you propose to conduct the interview with your supervisor or the Human Resources or Personnel Department, or the EAP Counselor.

For a complete list of Dos and Don’ts click here.

Conducting the Corrective Interview

Most supervisors find that conducting the corrective interview early in the day is better than waiting until late in the day. The rationale is simple. If you are anxious about it, get it over with.

Stay cool! One of the reasons for planning the interview is to avoid an interaction that is marred by the heat of the moment. When anger arrives, reason departs; this is an important time for you to remain rational and calm.

Don’t be Diverted. An employee may divert you from the real issue by offering excuses designed to elicit your sympathy. If an employee offers a personal problem as a reason for performance or conduct problems, it presents you with the ideal opportunity to suggest that the employee call Employee Assistance. When the suggestion of contacting the EAP is made the employee may:

  • Say that he or she has their own counselor.
  • Make the accusation "You think I'm crazy."
  • Say that he or she has a health problem.

None of these reasons should prevent you from making the referral.

Do not let the employee dissuade you if you feel they should call the EAP. If the employee declines and indicates a desire to "handle it myself", carefully make note of this. It may be useful in a second or third corrective interview.

Stay on Message. Consistently return the discussion to your outline or agenda and the employee's need to return conduct or performance to an acceptable standard.

What else should I consider when conducting the interview?

Since this is a first corrective interview, the tone should be friendly but serious. If possible, mention a time when the employee's performance was acceptable or better. Comment on his or her contributions to the organization and your sincere desire to help the employee return to that previous level of accomplishment. Stress the importance you place on improvement and the possible consequences if the problem persists.

The Second Interview and Beyond

The good news is that a single corrective interview is often sufficient to elicit a sustained positive employee response. The bad news is that there may not be improvement or only temporary improvement making a second corrective interview necessary.

A second corrective interview is similar to the first interview with these differences:

  • The tone is more serious. The employee must come to understand the seriousness with which you view the circumstances.
  • Disciplinary or other administrative action should begin and should become progressively more severe. This is the accepted method for sending a powerful message to the employee regarding the importance you are placing on the employee's need to change.
  • Recommend the use of Employee Assistance. Each corrective interview should convey an increasing sense of urgency in encouraging the employee to use Employee Assistance. If you want confirmation of an employee's participation in Employee Assistance, then advise the employee "if you want me to take your participation in Employee Assistance into consideration, then it's important for you to allow the Employee Assistance professional to confirm your participation."
  • If you want feedback from Employee Assistance, discuss your referral plans with the Employee Assistance counselor before you conduct the corrective interview.
  • Always consult with Human Resources or Personnel before taking or proposing disciplinary action.
  • Formalize documentation of the corrective interview. It may be part of disciplinary action.

Remember that you must be:

  • consistent
  • firm
  • fair
  • open

You should avoid:

  • showing anger
  • being diverted by excuses
  • delaying or procrastinating

Dealing with an employee problem promptly and firmly will often provide the employee with the optimum opportunity to correct performance or conduct problems and become a successful and productive member of the workplace.


Supervising people is a difficult job. And supervisors are not just "supervisors," they're people, too. Often a supervisor becomes so negatively influenced by a troubled employee that his or her own work and health suffers. You must take care of yourself before you can supervise others.

Managing employees is challenging and workplace solutions are rarely “one size fits all.” But no matter the pay grade or job description, the best managers know when to step back, assess the circumstances, and ask the right questions.

Test Yourself: Case Studies

The following are scenarios of various employee situations. How would you respond to each?

  1. Your employee, Amy, is in charge of the news bureau with liaison responsibilities to the local legislature. Her performance underscores her talent in carrying the company's mission to the right sources. Top management has given her free reign because she is good at what she does. Trouble is, it is a high pressure job and she pushes her stress onto her co-workers and subordinates. There have been grumblings and departures of good people who could not tolerate her outbursts and biting remarks. Amy has been cautioned and informally coached, with no changes.

    How would you respond?
(Click on a letter for feedback)
  • A. You tolerate the behavior because she is a good performer.If you respond to harshly, you may lose her.
    Behavior you tolerate will continue. There is not a sufficient penalty imposed on Amy's behavior to get her attention. She is, in a sense, rewarded for her results. Her thought process is probably "Why change?"
  • B. You continue to coach and counsel her. This way, you let her know her behavior is unacceptable.
    OK, you've demonstrated that you are not going to ignore the situation. You present Amy with the argument that she will get more cooperation from her subordinates if she treats them with respect. However, she knows there will been no real negative consequences for her behavior, so it is unlikely she will make a change.
  • C. You suddenly get tough with her; telling her one more outbursts will mean losing her job.
    You have demonstrated that you want to be taken seriously. However, you may want to ask yourself if you are acting out of anger. Also, do you have the backing of upper management? Will top management see you as the "temperamental one?"
  • D. You follow your personnel policy, document and make the desirable behavior part of Amy's job description; setting a time table for seeing a change.
    She won't like the news, but this can be successful if you can get the support of your upper management. In a position of leadership, Amy needs to improve her people skills, or face the consequences. Make your case by expressing concerns about the potential for grievances, loss of key people, as well as stress and disability claims. Despite her talent, the organization is paying a price for her outbursts. Also, offer her the EAP as an outside support. This can be helpful in case you need to make a more formal referral in the future if her behavior doesn't change.

Test Yourself: Case Studies

  1. For the third time in two months, an employee of yours, Craig, has become upset when you approached him about his declining performance. The first time he simply "stormed" out of the room. The second time he raised his voice and slammed the door on his way out. This most recent time, he used profanity, pounded his fist on your desk, and stated "I won't let anyone treat me this way." You've read alot lately about employees "getting revenge" on their supervisors, and you begin to have concern about your safety.

    How would you respond?
(Click on a letter for feedback)
  • A. You focus on Craig's declining peformance, reviewing performance standards and setting objective goals, while staying clear of the "demeanor" issues. You know you must focus on workplace-issues only, i.e. poor performance.
    Addressing Craig's poor performance is a good step. However, "conduct" or "demeanor" is also a workplace issue. Inappropriate conduct in the workplace is counter to an agency's overall mission, and it must be addressed. Especially when that behavior is threatening and has the potential to be dangerous.
  • B. You do not approach Craig regarding his performance issues because his "outbursts" have increased in intensity each time. You certainly do not want a "workplace-violence" episode in your office and you're afraid by continuing to confront him he will "blow-up." Instead, you secretely go to HR and ask to have him terminated.
    Craig's inappropriate behavior has increased in intensity most likely because he has not been held accountable for it.Research on workplace violence shows that in most cases of violent episodes, there were previous episodes of mild anger in the workplace that went unaddressed.
  • C. Deciding that "conduct" is a "workplace-issue" you confront Craig with specific instances of his inappropriate behavior. At this time, you also discuss his declining performance, outlining ways to improve. This also includes a discussion of consequences if both performance and conduct are not returned to an acceptable level.
    This is the best way to proceed. If you are fearful that Craig may "explode" and you have safety concerns, remember to have someone else in the room with you or even alert security that you may need to call them. Also, remember to refer to the EAP so that Craig can get assistance with controlling his anger, as well as with whatever may be affecting his performance.
  • D. Besides a couple of "uncomfortable" situations, Craig is harmless. You don't want to make matters worse, so you decide to take no action at this time. His performance will certainly "turn around." Of course you will monitor the situation, documenting appropriate concerns as you go. You also contact HR to inform them of your plan.
    Documenting the situation and Craig's behavior is certainly a good step to take. Also, contacting the HR Department to inform them of your steps is wise. However, Craig needs to be informed his behavior is unacceptable. Inappropriate behavior that is not addressed usually does not stop, and often it increases.

If you have examples of other situations that you would like to see included on this page, or otherwise hear our recommendations about, please contact us.

Thanks for participating in our
Online Supervisory Briefing

If you did not complete the entire briefing, we would urge you to do so and begin again where you left off, whenever it is convenient for you.

Also, we would very much appreciate any feedback about the online briefing that you might have. Please e-mail us with your comments, positive impressions as well as suggestions for improvement, or the need for additional information.

If you have any questions that were not addressed here, or if you would like to discuss a specific situation with one of our Employee Assistance Consultants, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks again for your time.

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