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Understanding & Helping
With Personal Problems

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Employee Assistance Program

Executive Order 12968 on Access to Classified Information requires the head of each U.S. Government organization that grants access to classified information to establish a program to inform cleared employees about available assistance concerning issues that may affect their eligibility for access to classified information, such as financial matters, mental health, or substance abuse. Most government organizations meet this requirement through some form of Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many private companies also have an EAP or some other form of counseling or medical assistance available to their employees.

Many employees, at some point during their career, develop a personal problem for which they could use counseling or medical assistance. The EAP is there to provide confidential professional help to employees facing personal problems that might impact on their performance, their health and well-being, the safety of other employees, or security.

Problems in the workplace can often be prevented by timely and appropriate response to warning signs that an individual is under stress or having trouble handling personal problems. Information available here will help you understand several common types of personal problems and the kinds of help that are available. It will not, however, substitute for the kind of personalized help you can get from the EAP office.

image  Boxed-In and Desperate
In case after case of destructive behavior in the workplace, whether it be theft of government property, fraud, violence against other personnel, suicide, or espionage, investigators have documented situations in which troubled employees felt boxed in. They have acted out of a sense of desperation, or a feeling that there is no other way out. The EAP offers another and better way.

EAP helps you deal with family, marital and relationship problems, substance abuse problems, financial difficulties, stress, depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and other mental or emotional problems. Employees are encouraged to contact EAP even if their problems are not job-related. Short-term counseling is available in-house at no cost, while referrals are made to other services or outside professionals for longer-term treatment. When counseled or treated by others, the cost is the responsibility of the employee, but the EAP works to keep it affordable.

When arrested spies are interviewed about why they committed the ultimate betrayal, the most common theme is: "I had a problem I couldn't deal with. I didn't get any help. If I had had some real assistance, the whole thing would not have happened."

Ideally, a troubled individual will recognize a need for help and contact the EAP on his or her own. Often, however, those with serious problems will not take the initiative in seeking help to confront the problem. Indeed, denying the existence of an obvious problem is a common reaction by those most in need of help.

Many people are reluctant to seek help for fear that their problem may become known to the security office, and that this may affect their security clearance. Such people need to understand that, from the security office's perspective, "people who seek help are rarely a security problem. They are demonstrating good judgment and dealing appropriately with whatever personal problem they have. It's the people who do not seek help who present a security concern."

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Don't ignore
the obvious.

If the individual fails to seek help on his or her own, it is the immediate supervisor's responsibility to take appropriate action. A supervisor need not know what the problem is -- only that the employee's job performance is being affected. A referral to EAP is not an adverse action. It is a good alternative to more formal administrative measures and often prevents adverse action from becoming necessary. A report made in confidence by the supervisor to a security professional may also be appropriate.

Often, however, you rather than the supervisor are the one who is most aware that a friend or co-worker is exhibiting signs of distress or inability to cope with a situation. In such cases, your personal intervention is in the best interests of your friend or co-worker as well as your organization. You should advise a supervisor or talk with the individual directly to encourage use of EAP.

If you are at a loss for words to start an appropriate discussion with the individual, you may call your EAP anonymously and ask for advice on how to proceed.  Another alternative is to print out the relevant topic of this Employees' Guide. It's like tearing out an Ann Landers or Dear Abby column from the newspaper and giving it to someone who needs the advice. Tell them: "Here, you really ought to read this. You seem to be having a problem, and this might help. I care about you as a friend and co-worker, so please don't be offended if I try to be helpful."

Confidentiality

The effectiveness of the EAP depends upon how much it is trusted by both employees and supervisors. EAP records are confidential under the provisions of the Privacy Act. They do not become part of the employee's security or personnel file.

An employee with a problem, or anyone concerned about an employee with a problem, may phone the EAP anonymously to discuss EAP policies and procedures. This may help you decide whether or not the EAP offers an appropriate course of action.

If you request EAP assistance on your own initiative, everything you say will be held confidential and neither your supervisor nor the security office will be informed that you are receiving counseling. The only exceptions to this policy of confidentiality are that information affecting the national security or posing a threat to yourself or another individual, criminal behavior, and child or elder abuse are reportable to appropriate authorities.

If you request EAP assistance on your own initiative, and your security office later learns that you have a problem of potential security significance, the fact that you have shown awareness of the problem and voluntarily sought assistance will be very much to your credit. Although no promises can be made, it is likely under these circumstances that no adverse administrative action will be taken as long as the prognosis for resolving your problem is favorable.

If you are referred to the EAP by your supervisor or any other authority, your privacy rights still apply unless you sign a waiver that allows your supervisor to be advised about your specific problem(s). If your supervisor learns about your specific problems pursuant to such a waiver, he/she may not disclose this information to anyone else without your written consent. If you do not sign a waiver allowing your supervisor to be advised about your problems, your EAP counselor will advise your supervisor only of information that is directly related to your work, such as answers to the following questions:

  • Did you keep the appointment(s)?
  • Will additional sessions be necessary?
  • Are you cooperating?
  • Will you be out of the office to keep further appointments for any other health services?

Supervisor Referral

Supervisors should not become personally involved in an employee's personal problems. They should, however, ensure that a troubled employee who needs help is referred to the professionals who are trained to give it.

Supervisors are responsible for identifying problems at an early stage, so that any assistance will have a reasonable chance of preventing long-term performance or security problems.

Any supervisor who observes a noticeable decline in an employee's performance should consider that it may be caused by a family disruption, emotional problem, financial problem, or substance abuse. An employee who is worried or preoccupied by a serious personal problem often finds it difficult to focus on his or her work.

The first step in dealing with any performance problem is normal supervisory counseling. If this does not solve the problem, consider referring the employee to the EAP. The EAP staff is trained to assess whether or not an employee's performance deficiencies are rooted in some personal problem and, if so, to help the employee deal with these difficulties.

Supervisors should advise the EAP in advance of a pending referral and provide appropriate background. Also let the employee know that EAP is expecting him/her, and that he/she will be asked to sign a consent form that will allow the EAP counselor to provide the supervisor with appropriate information about the employee's problem. Without this consent, the counselor will be able to provide the supervisor only with the very general information noted above.

The employee should be advised that referral to the EAP is not an adverse administrative action. It is, rather, a means of trying to avoid adverse administrative action. The employee has the right to refuse EAP assistance. Whether EAP assistance is accepted or refused, the employee remains responsible for improving work performance to acceptable levels.

Supervisors often have unnecessary concerns about referring an employee to the EAP.

  • They are often afraid of hurting an employee, even though an EAP referral may be the only chance an employee has of getting the help they need. Supervisors should focus on the harm caused by not referring a troubled employee to the professionals who are trained to help.
  • Supervisors may feel that referring a problem, rather than solving it themselves, means they are not doing their job. But it is not the supervisor's job to diagnose the employee's personal problem or to solve it. Part of the supervisor's job is knowing organizational resources and exercising good judgment about how and when to use them.

Related Topic: Standards of Personal Conduct, Reporting Improper, Unreliable or Suspicious Behavior.

 

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