Author Daniel Feerst, http://workexcel.com
This is a common-sense approach that uses the gift of leverage and economics to motivate and salvage your employee with alcoholism problem. The goal is a work who bounces back, in sobriety, and becomes productive once more--but more so. I call it performance-based Intervention an requires no diagnostic or armchair diagnosis. It strictly focuses on performance, behavior, and attendance issues. It is has a success rate of over 95 percent if the reader is the employer/business owner and he or she sick and tired of having the behavior or an alcoholic interfering with the productivity and processes of the company.
- Before confronting the employee, meet with other involved managers or supervisors and agree on what will be accomplished as a result of the intervention. Interveners should be in agreement about the seriousness of job performance problems, attendance problems, attitude problems, or other unacceptable behavior. Interveners must be specific. Previously documented job problems are useful. The most recent evidence of continuing problems, or other performance problems, can serve as a catalyst to the intervention. Ideally, the intervention follows an event requiring a corrective management response. Before scheduling your intervention meeting with the employee, set up an appointment for the clinician to evaluate the employee. Your employee will go to this appointment immediately after the intervention meeting. Your employee will receive appropriate discipline for documented job performance problems, or such an action will be held in abeyance because the employee has agreed to attend the appointment at the end of your intervention meeting.As mentioned before, two representatives of management will meet with the employee. Ideally, this is the supervisor and the next-level supervisor. The senior supervisor should have authority to administer disciplinary action. The HR manager (that makes three members) may also participate. Ask your HR representative’s opinion on participating. This adds protection for the company and the employee. The HR representative also can clarify other company policies and procedures. Remember, a union steward or other representative may be needed at the meeting. Federal employees are guaranteed this right, even if the workforce is not unionized. By all means, safeguard the employee’s confidentiality throughout the entire intervention, treatment, and back-to-work process. Repeat your promise of confidentiality.The next-level supervisor or the manager with authority to levy disciplinary action leads the intervention — not the immediate supervisor! The immediate supervisor supports the confrontation with evidence of job performance problems. This also is a critical point. Managers must be in agreement that the disciplinary action chosen is appropriate to the problem behavior. The threat of job loss, if appropriate, will have the most impact on motivating the employee to seek help for an addiction problem. Research has shown that the opportunity to avoid a disciplinary action can strongly motivate alcoholic or drug addicted employees to consider treatment. In fact, this type of crisis produces the strongest sense of urgency to take a step toward treatment.Intervention should never appear to be an informal or casual event. The time for managers to impart their personal concern for the employee and the possibility of future disciplinary action if things don’t turn around has passed. You have already had that conversation by now. At best, “soft” confrontations may motivate an employee to temporarily place controls on drinking and drug use. More likely, such confrontations will drive the drinking further underground increasing risk of more severe workplace problems. At worst, such diagnostic confrontations subject management to the possibility of lawsuits for harassment or other employment litigation. If a job problem exists, it requires correction or disciplinary action. In any case, pushing an employee to admit his/her addiction is extremely problematic because it demands a discussion about whether such a problem really exists. If you are like most employers who have tried this approach, the employee will thank you for your concern and move on, or will become belligerent. Either way, you lose. You will then erroneously conclude that interventions don’t work and will lose valuable workers. Remember as well that employees rarely seek addiction treatment on suggestion. And if by chance they do, it usually is a short-lived, half-measured attempt. Professional follow-up after treatment is critical to success and you can’t play this role. Moreover, although you might have personal concerns about your employee’s use of alcohol or drugs, a “friendly chat” or other “unofficial” attempt on your part to discuss the drug or alcohol problem in the absence of job performance or behavior problems is useless. You’re fooling yourself if you think this will work — no matter how good you feel about your employee’s cooperation during such a conversation. Don’t forget, as mentioned earlier, that such a discussion can subject management to employment practices liability.The best time to confront the employee follows a work incident where a "perceived crisis" provides a sense of urgency, seriousness, and resolve. Employees with addiction problems are less defensive at these times and are more amenable to treatment. This is called an “incidental crisis.” At the very least, most addicts will consider modifying their alcohol and drug use at such times. In effect, a window of opportunity opens, but the addict closes it quickly with well-practiced defense mechanisms that distort and minimize the seriousness of the event. Decreased anxiety and awareness of the real problem, making intervention a bit more difficult follow this period. Confrontation soon after an incident also makes fear of disciplinary action more meaningful, and elicits motivation when the offer of treatment is made to the employee.Start by explaining to the employee what is wrong with his/her job performance and how responsibilities have not been met. Explain the impact of the problems. Describe in detail the incident prompting this meeting. Let the employee know that the situation is serious and that you have made a decision about his or her job situation. Explain to the employee all problem behaviors that have been documented. Take your time and be calm. Now, tell the employee that on the basis of these problems, the company has decided to terminate, suspend, provide a letter of reprimand, or whatever, etc.Accept the employee's reaction. Receiving a disciplinary action, especially termination, is a numbing experience, even if the employee appears unaffected. It will make the employee amenable to whatever might reverse it. Now apply the one-minute intervention: Say, “The company is willing to hold this disciplinary action in abeyance under one condition.”Then say to the employee: "If you believe that these job problems, etc., are possibly related to an alcohol (or drug use) problem, directly or even indirectly (don't use the term "alcoholic,” “alcoholism,” or “drug addict”), then the company would be willing to consider the following: (1) We will allow you to get an assessment to determine whether you need some sort of assistance or help, and we will view these job problems as symptoms of the alcohol problem — a health issue that needs to be accommodated; (2) We also will guarantee that your job security, promotional opportunities, and job status will not be jeopardized simply because you went for help; (3) We also will keep your decision to seek help strictly confidential; and (4) We will give you time off work to get recommended treatment, if any, consistent with our leave policy. We cannot discuss with you or speculate whether or not you have such a problem because we are not professionals. And we cannot diagnose you or suggest you need help. The choice is strictly yours. Would you like to consider this option now — or accept the disciplinary action we have proposed? If you do not want to accept this offer, it is your decision, and we will proceed with disciplinary action.Your employee is now breathing a great sigh of relief, but still may attempt to ask why you think he or she has a drinking problem. Remember that you will not discuss it. Tell the employee it is not within your ability to diagnose this problem, nor is the discussion appropriate. Your focus is solely on whether to dispense a disciplinary action or hold such an action in abeyance in order to accommodate what the employee believes could be the existence of an alcohol or drug related problem. The employee needs to decide.WHAT JUST HAPPENED: In effect, you have just said that the only way the employee can avoid the disciplinary action is to request accommodation for his or her alcohol or drug problem. You’re willing to roll out the “red carpet” for your employee if that’s the case.
- If your employee agrees!Say, "We would like for you to speak with someone with whom we have consulted, who advised us about how to proceed with helping you. If this professional recommends treatment or some form of assistance — and, we don't know if he/she will — we would like you to follow through with those recommendations as part of the agreement."We also would like you to give permission for the clinician to speak with us so that we can know you went for the appointment. We don’t need any details. We also need to know if there is a recommendation, and if you have agreed to follow it. We also need to know from the consultant if any time off from work will be necessary to accommodate the recommendations. We do not need other information."Ask the employee if he or she would like to be escorted to the appointment. Do not send the employee alone if you believe he/she has been drinking. Remind the employee of the following:A. The employee is not being "required to go." (Although the employee feels pressure, it is his or her choice. Remember that you have legitimate reasons at this moment to dispense a disciplinary action.)B. You are not diagnosing the employee. This is not your job. (Everyone probably knows there’s an alcohol-related problem, but you’re staying out of this realm because it’s not your place to discuss it. And, it’s highly risky.)C. The employee is going to the evaluation because he or she — NOT YOU — believes there is a problem that needs to be evaluated and/or treated. This is a critical point. Don’t get into a power struggle over your employee’s decision. It’s time to let go.D. You can only accept at this point what the professional recommends; not what the employee thinks should be done, if an alcohol or drug problem exists. (It's too late for bargaining now. That time has passed. If you are still willing to accept the employee’s plan for “doing-it-on-my-own,” you’ll lose this intervention outcome. This is called “buying the employee’s next drink.” Your employee should have already considered other options prior to this intervention meeting. So, “new ideas” the employee might suggest should be unacceptable.”E. You will consider dispensing the disciplinary action on the basis of documented performance problems unless the employee establishes that:a) An alcohol or drug problem exists that needs treatment.b) An evaluation appointment is verified.c) A release is signed to confirm the interview outcome.d) There is an agreement to follow professional recommendations.e) There is follow through, once begun, with professional recommendations.
- LAST STEP IF EMPLOYEE IS UNWILLING:If the employee decides against the assessment/evaluation and instead accepts the disciplinary action, do the following:Double check to see if this is indeed what the employee really wants to do. Discuss the impact of the employee's decision on his or her life. Simply clarify the consequences of the decision. If no reversal of the decision is forthcoming, tell the employee that you must implement the disciplinary action. BUT, tell your employee that if he or she changes his/her mind, to let you know by tomorrow morning, say by 10:00 AM, because after that it will be too late. Under these circumstances many employees will accept help the next day. They simply have trouble admitting to you at the moment that they need help. Instead, they harm themselves rather than admit to "moral, willpower, or a character failing,” which is how most people view addiction, although this is complete myth. [If you view alcoholism this way, your intervention will probably fail because the employee will sense your contempt. Denial is all about avoiding shame, pity, self-punishment, and the contempt of others for having a psychological problem or being weak. If you have a drinking problem yourself, it is likely that you have this misunderstanding of addictive illness. You can still be successful with an intervention, however, because this is about the employee’s problem, not yours. With luck, you will read more about alcoholism, experiment with abstinence, self-diagnose, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, seek treatment, and recover.]
- TIPS:1) Don't conduct this intervention on a day before vacation or annual leave, or on a Friday. 2. Conduct the intervention in the morning.3. Don't get involved in a discussion about whether there is indeed an alcohol or drug problem. You cannot win this argument. Your consultation with the clinician has confirmed this problem probably exists, which is the basis for the intervention. The issue for your company is to discipline or not discipline the employee for documented job performance or conduct problems. Any discussion about alcoholism or drug addiction will lead you to postpone action because you will be tempted to accept reasonable employee-initiated alternatives or explanations to satisfy your unrealistic need to feel good about the outcome of the intervention and please the employee at the same time. Unfortunately, you will be enabling and losing credibility with your employee. The employee with an alcohol or drug problem is well practiced at arguing his or her "case,” particularly with family members, with whom they have acquired this skill. This experience makes you an easy match.4. Do not allow the employee to simply tell you that he or she already has quit drinking or will quit on his or her own. This is unacceptable and inappropriate discussion in a correctional interview. If the employee says he or she might have a drinking problem, it requires treatment, not an investment in willpower or cutting back to address its symptoms, namely drinking. Treatment is necessary for the employee to arrest the illness and learn how to “stay stopped” from ethyl alcohol or other psychoactive drug consumption. You are the employer, not a family member. Family members routinely accept, out of ignorance, these assurances by the addict. You should not make the same mistake.5. The employee may attempt to manipulate you to some degree if you have been previously manipulated in the past. This is normal. Simply stick to your decision. Focus on performance and consequences, or holding consequences in abeyance depending on what the employee decides to do.
- Q. What if there is no problem with alcoholism or drug addiction and no recommendation for treatment is made by the clinician?A. Although this is very unlikely, particularly in light of a professional consultation prior to the intervention, your company can choose to impose the disciplinary action for clearly documented job performance problems that are obviously not related to addiction or other medical condition. Do not discharge your employee without good cause and good documentation as to the reasons why. With performance-based intervention, you are accommodating a health care problem. If no health care problem exists, and the employee is not in need of an accommodation for a health care problem (addictive disease, in this case), then responding to the ongoing job-related problems with a measured and fitting disciplinary response is an option. Most employers I have worked with have been at the absolute “end of their ropes” with the behavior of their employee. If you are not, be sure you construct an iron clad and clearly worded performance improvement plan. Think carefully about whether this is prudent for your circumstances. Never, ever imply that you might consider this if the employee’s evaluation is negative. This would sabotage the intervention and the employee’s motivation with the clinician. Q. What if the counselor determines that another problem exists — not alcoholism or drug addiction?A. If by chance the clinician discovers another serious personal problem, other than alcoholism or drug addiction that needs treatment, your company could choose to consider accepting and accommodating this recommendation. A health care clinician who indicates that alcoholism or a drug addiction problem is a symptom of depression probably does not know what he or she is doing. A bunch of these folks are out there. A look at their resume will point to a lack of experience with addictive disease. You must get a clear understanding of the clinician’s beliefs about addiction before you go forward. Professionals associated with accredited addiction treatment programs are likely to have the experience you need. Those who work strictly for a psychiatric program are generally less knowledgeable. Of course, depression can make an alcohol or drug addiction worse, or it can exist concurrently with it. But, depression doesn’t cause alcoholism. Alcoholics may drink to sooth depression (also called “self-medicating”) which may or may not be caused by the alcoholism. Alcohol works well for this purpose only if you have the requisite body chemistry. A “social drinker” wouldn’t consider doing this anymore than eating broccoli for such a purpose. Social drinkers can’t medicate depression with alcohol because they have no past experience with alcohol that would influence them to consider it.Q. What if the employee goes to treatment, but later relapses and is using drugs, or is in trouble with alcohol again?A. It is possible that your employee may relapse at some point in the future. If this occurs, it does not mean failure. Acting quickly to motivate the employee to revisit the CEAP or treatment professional is essential, however, in order to stop the relapse. Promise the consequence for failure to do so. Relapse is like an aftershock following a major earthquake; it doesn’t mean the BIG ONE is back. Relapse is usually associated with experimental drinking to see if one has indeed really lost control. It usually occurs because the employee has failed to properly manage their disease. An incidental crisis or event then prompts the impulse to drink. Relapse is considered normal in the progression of recovery. In the first year or two, however, this is more often because of poor follow-up and poor communication with those who have influence and leverage in the addict’s decision to enter treatment and remain in an effective recovery program. That’s you. The bottom line is that relapse occurs far less when expert follow-up by the treatment provider is part of the care plan. So, insist on it. In the end, most addicts who finally are successful at life-long abstinence experience relapse. Never assume failure if this happens. Watch behavior. Does it tell you the employee wants his job or does it not? What does the professional have to say? Take your cue from this person so you know how to respond.Q. What if the employee continues to relapse and we simply cannot tolerate the unpredictability of the problems he or she experiences?A. Your employee’s addictive disease is a chronic health care problem, although 80% or better of employees referred to treatment from the workplace stay sober. I believe that with good follow-up (the key to success) this figure approaches 90% or better. In the event your employee is unable to sustain employment, you may wish to consider other alternatives. Disability retirement is a possibility. Don’t overreact to this suggestion. If this is arranged, a stringent, regular, and periodic evaluation by an addictionologist (a medical doctor certified by the American Society on Addiction Medicine, or ASAM, should take place to verify the employee’s aggressive involvement in a satisfactory treatment and recovery program in order to remain qualified for disability insurance. Most employees who know this type of evaluation will be required will feel an overwhelming sense of urgency to make their recovery program work to stay sober. Some employees with compounded physical or mental health problems may not be successful no matter what their motivation to remain abstinent. For instance, severe organic brain damage or end-stage liver cirrhosis might make it impossible to engage in treatment. For these employees intervention for them came too late.
Sources and Citations
- Performance-based Intervention Manual; Feerst, Daniel A. DFA Publishing and Consutling, PO BOX 2006, Mount Pleasant, SC 29465-2006; http://workexcel.com