Personal Assistance Service (PAS) | 2200 West Main Street | Erwin Square Tower | 4th Floor, Suite 400A | Durham, NC 27705 | 919-416-1PAS (919-416-1727)

Supervisor Newsletter Archives

Performance Issues

Q. How can a supervisor become less fearful of confronting an employee whose performance is unsatisfactory? I think many of us live in denial, or rationalize avoidance of this unpleasant task. We want to be leaders, but this responsibility is the most distasteful. How can PAS help?

A. Most supervisors can temporarily get away with ignoring employees who are not performing satisfactorily. Unfortunately, such problems can grow worse, as do the risks they present. Helping supervisors understand the chronic nature of unresolved personnel issues can create an urgency to act sooner, before a crisis makes confrontation unavoidable. Shy supervisors usually are unaware of the secondary problems associated with poor performance. Failure by employees to follow work rules and disregard for one's professional development are examples. Supervisors' reluctance to confront employees is often based on fear and insecurity. This might be fear of being lashed out at by the employee, disliked, or labeled unfair. The reticent supervisor's goal is to avoid an undeserved reputation as an oppressor. If this sounds familiar, contact PAS for counseling and support, and practice some tough role plays with a PAS professional. You will be astonished at how such exercises can enhance one's fortitude to act.


Q. After making a formal supervisor referral to the PAS, why is further communication about participation and cooperation necessary from PAS? My focus is on change or improved job performance. I either see it or I don't.

A. Communicating with the supervisor following a formal referral for performance problems represents best practice for PAS in managing troubled workers. It recognizes that employees are motivated, in part, to follow through because of concerns over their job security. Eliminating the communication between supervisor and PAS reduces accountability and invites a loss of urgency on the part of the PAS client. PAS exists because of its primary business purpose, which is helping the workforce maintain healthy and productive relationships. Part of this must be motivating the most difficult and most troubled workers to follow through with its recommendations, and communication with concerned supervisors helps with this process.

Poor Interpersonal Skills

Q. My best employee is also my worst. The employee is an excellent producer with poor interpersonal skills. This employee is smart, but the person's demeanor makes others feel stupid. Employees don't like this person because of his "I'm better than you" attitude. I'm concerned that this employee might reject a formal PAS referral.

A. A referral to Personal Assistance Service could be helpful to this employee. A confidential consult with a staff member from Personal Assistance Service will help you decide on an effective approach to discussing a referral to PAS with the employee. You mention the employee's "demeanor," or the way he behaves, which gives people an impression of his character and feelings. You are aware that the impression he gives is unproductive and negative. This observation can be the beginning way you might approach recommending Personal Assistance Service. You might share with the employee that the Personal Assistance Staff can help the employee identify ways to not give a negative impression if that is not what the employee intends to display. It will be important to have good documentation of the employee's interactions with others. Record complaints made about this employee, and take notes on when interactions occurred. Remember Staff and Labor Relations is also a resource for you as you prepare for any "Corrective Action" that might be necessary.

Q. I have an ambitious employee who produces great work, but collaborating with others is a problem for him. He experiences too many power struggles, and before long he starts managing others on a team rather than collaborating with them. Any tips on how best to manage this person?

A. Your employee enjoys being with coworkers, but prefers the leadership role over collaboration. But it is equally important to learn both roles; otherwise increased alienation of coworkers will result. Meet in private with your employee and describe the issue as you see it. Your employee's ability to receive feedback and be thankful for it will be an indicator of his amenability to change. Suggest resources that would help him develop better ways to communicate, collaborate, and even support colleagues on his work team. Those resources could range from reading materials, peer mentoring relationships and looking into courses that might be offered at Learning and Organizational Development. If these issues continue after you have made several resource options available to him, arrange a referral to the Personal Assistance Service. The Personal Assistance Service staff will help your employee understand how his desire to control interferes with productivity. The Personal Assistance Service staff can also help your employee understand how powerful collaboration can be for work teams. Your employee undoubtedly has leadership strengths, so the goal should be to help him apply these skills appropriately.

Q. I have been a supervisor for many years. I recently hired an employee who acts like he knows more than I do about my job. This employee does have some good ideas, but, frankly, I am put off by the "hotshot" attitude. Maybe I am old-fashioned or insecure?

A. You have a bright and precocious employee, but there appears to be room for improvement in their communication style so there might be more receptivity by others for ideas and suggestions. Your concern about whether this problem lies with you indicates that you have already made attempts to be open-minded and tolerant. Good for you. Certainly it can be a challenge adapting to the presence of an ambitious and assertive newcomer on your staff, but you appear to have a valid concern with the employee's style. Consider talking with a PAS counselor for a short consult to gain a clearer picture of what part of this issue lies with you and where you might start in helping this employee gain maturity in communication. Effective communication at work is an acquired skill, and improvements can come from supportive bosses, such as yourself.

The Defensive Employee

Q. My employee is very "slippery." When I confront this person about performance issues, there is always an excuse, another angle, or some truth in the rebuttal that causes me to back down. Either I am not assertive enough, not as smart, or too easily swayed. How do I win this game?

A. It seems that you are interested in ways to engage the employee in a productive, open and non-defensive discussion about their work performance. Before addressing the quality of work or technical aspects of the job, first address the attitude demonstrated by the employee in response to concerns about performance or corrective interviews you conduct with the person. What you need from your employee is cooperation with your role. This means responding to your confrontations with a sincere desire to discover what is important to you and not to do battle in an effort to dodge whatever point you are trying to make. Until this mind-set of your employee changes, other issues of a more practical nature will fail to be corrected. There may be some need for you to be more assertive, but it is much more likely that the missing piece here is to help your employee understand that his or her perspective prompts an inappropriate response that interferes with productivity.

PAS can be a valuable resource to you in discussing ways to communicate your concerns about how the employee is responding to you and ways to recommend PAS to the employee as a resource to help them with any work or personal issues that might be interfering with their work performance.

Argumentative Employee

Q. My employee argues with me in ways that I would not have dreamed of when I was his age 25 years ago. What can I do about a disrespectful employee? Is this part of the "transformational" world we live in, or do I need to be more assertive?

A. Some things, like respect and civility, should not change in the workplace. You should address issues with an employee who is disrespectful. Meet with your employee and list incidents and specific behaviors that are unacceptable. State that the behaviors will incur consequences if they continue. Your employee may claim that s/he is not being disrespectful, so you need to define the specific standards of behavior you expect. The good news is that you will probably be successful in correcting this behavior in one interview because most employees heed direct messages of this sort. Other issues may contribute to an inability of the employee to control her/his behavior, and Personal Assistance Service would be a good resource to help the employee sort these issues out.

Q. Can I refer my employee to the Personal Assistance Service for being argumentative? No matter what my suggestion, some nuance, problem, issue, objection, reason to hesitate, or correction is raised by this employee. What causes this behavior? Is it simply a bad habit?

A. It doesn't appear that you feel the employees' motive for reacting to your suggestions is to give helpful feedback. The argumentative and frequent nature of these interactions seems to interfere with productivity and the quality relationship you need with your employee. It is possible that a larger problem exists with this employee; therefore, a referral of the employee to Personal Assistance Service is appropriate, particularly if you have requested that this behavior stop. Many explanations could exist for this behavior. It could be a symptom of other conflicts or something more psychological that compels your employee to frequently take issue with your suggestions.

Even if your employee is accurately spotting problems and shortcomings in your every request, there are ways this employee can communicate more effectively so as to enhance the working relationship with you and not hamper the productivity of the operations at work.

Improper Behavior

Q. The spouse of an employee phoned me on Sunday night to say his wife would not be at work the next day because of a car problem. It all seemed rather odd. I recommended this employee visit PAS in the past for being absent on Mondays. What's my next step to intervene?

A. Many employees will visit PAS based on a supervisor's recommendation. This usually happens for two reasons: They really have a personal problem and the prompt by the supervisor does the trick to motivate them to get help, or they don't have much of a problem at all, but they go to PAS because pleasing the supervisor is important to them. Personal problems that an employee would rather control but not give up, like alcoholism, may be the reason why your earlier recommendation to go to PAS was ignored by your employee. The question for the supervisor is how long to tolerate repeated performance problems before deciding upon an action that can leverage an employee's desire to seek help. Typically, this is an effective disciplinary action. Employees with personal problems that affect job performance, like addiction, should be encouraged to accept help whether that is at PAS or another external community agency.

Q. As a supervisor, I'm trying to encourage my employees to use less of the Internet for non-business activities. What does the latest research say about these behaviors? Can Personal Assistance help?

A. A recent research report from Kansas State University found that about 60 to 80 percent of computer use at work is not work-related. Young people spend more time on social media sites like Facebook, and older workers spend more time on personal financial matters. Both groups, however, engage in this behavior, sometimes referred to as "cyberloafing." Company policies against using the Internet for personal business are difficult to enforce, and they are typically ignored. Even when employees are warned, threats of corrective action may go unheeded. However, communication about the expectations regarding personal computer use while at work should be clearly stated. Personal Assistance Service can be a helpful resource for employees who struggle with self-discipline in controlling their inappropriate Internet use. Some may have "compulsive use problems" in other areas of their lives, and the Personal Assistance Service Staff can be helpful to the employee in identifying those as well.

Q. I know "presenteeism" refers to employees coming to work sick and being less productive, but it can be difficult to spot related job problems. How do supervisors intervene?

A. Presenteeism is a relatively new term, but it is essentially a modernized version of what in the past has been referred to as "on the job absenteeism." Although presenteeism is an interesting topic for discussion, attempting to identify who is affected by it is more difficult. It is better to avoid the technical aspects of this syndrome and instead focus on what you can document in your pursuit of helping your employees maximize their productivity and job satisfaction. Presenteeism typically refers to employees being at work while sick, but it also has been used to describe almost any nonproductive activity of employees on the job, no matter what the underlying reason might be. If you are aware of behaviors that demonstrate an employee is either not performing competently or is without motivation for the tasks they are supposed to perform, presenteeism may exist. Personal Assistance Service can consult with you about presenteeism and intervention.

Q. I left my employees alone to participate in an educational project. Later, I heard about improper behaviors and goofing off that occurred. Supervisors can't be room monitors or babysitters. Why do grown employees act this way? Can PAS help?

A. There's an old saying, "Are you growing up or just growing old?" This lack of professional conduct is probably the result of immaturity. Employees who display immature behaviors are generally more dependent on those in authority or their peers to help them conform to the expectations of the larger group or situation. Even bright and talented employees can be immature. Immature employees may be easily influenced by peers to participate in inappropriate behaviors. Hence, when you leave the room, the immaturity shows itself. Immaturity can be frustrating for responsible adults. Personal Assistance Service is a resource for you to discuss and strategize how to cope with this type of employee behavior. We also are a counseling resource for the employee. Perhaps counseling can help the employee look at the impact this behavior has on his or her work performance and on how others perceive him or her. You can also contact Staff and Labor Relations to determine if any disciplinary measures should be taken.

Bullying and Incivility

Q. My employee complained to human resources that I was bullying them. I don't consider myself to be a bully. I often use humor with my employees, and I guess my dry humor didn't sit well with this particular employee. HR did not determine that I was exhibiting bullying behavior, but I am concerned enough about the employee's perception of being bullied that I am trying to change my communication style. Has bullying in the workplace been overblown?

A. Bullying in the workplace is pervasive and is now viewed as a serious occupational hazard by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety. The 2017 survey on workplace bullying was released recently by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Their key findings include:

  • 19 percent of Americans report being bullied at work, and another 19 percent report having witnessed bullying at work
  • 61 percent of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
  • 70 percent of perpetrators are men, and 60 percent of targets are women
  • 61 percent of bullies are bosses
  • 40 percent of bullied targets are believed to suffer adverse health effects.

The statistics above reflect the serious human and economic costs of bullying. Although you were not found to be a bully, making employees the target of jokes can be intimidating and lead to a host of other employment-related complaints like harassment. You recognize the value of creating meaningful relationships with your employees, and Personal Assistance Service can help you with developing a communication style that will nurture more satisfying workplace relationships.

Q. How to do I get two employees whose personalities clash severely to get along? I think the services at Personal Assistance Service are great, but I think these two are beyond help. These employees have significant differences in their backgrounds, energy levels, values, attitudes, work styles, and more.

A. Despite the serious differences between your employees, it is not practical or helpful to say all hope is lost. Realize that employees in severe conflict usually evolve to the point of impasse that they are experiencing over a period of time. The conflict may appear to be an instant phenomenon, but typically unacceptable behavior, sabotaging behavior, withholding information, territorial disputes, and complete unwillingness to sit down and iron out problems emerge over time. The toxicity in these relationships grows because the warring parties perceive that there is a lack consequences to continuing their dispute. Your first step is to consult with a Personal Assistance Service counselor to discuss the problem privately. Then examine your commitment to communicating to your employees that your expectation is for them to improve their working relationship and this expectation is nonnegotiable. Next, you will want to refer your employees to Personal Assistance Service, and finally make decisions about how you will respond should a resolution not be forthcoming. Presumably, both employees would like to be in less conflict. These circumstances offer strong indications that Personal Assistance Service will be able to help.

Q. My best lead worker can be a little rough. The lead worker is bossy, teases one member of the team about that person's intelligence and periodically yells at that team member. The puzzling piece is that they get along with each other 90 percent of the time. They hang out, go bowling together, etc. Should I step in and intervene?

A. You should meet with your lead worker to ensure that any behaviors you consider offensive stop. Document your meeting, including the lead person's response. You are able to personally judge the behaviors as inappropriate, and despite the team member's apparent lack of assertiveness or willingness to come to you for help, you have a duty to maintain a work environment that is safe, respectful, and supportive of that employee's well-being. These are bullying behaviors because they target one person and show a pervasive ongoing pattern of abuse. The team member may be tolerating this bullying behavior out of fear, or coping with it in ways that are beyond your awareness. For example, that team member may suffer ill effects like sleeping problems or depression. The victimized employee's socializing with the lead worker does not diminish the importance of the steps you should take. Consider a formal referral to the Personal Assistance Service if the behavior does not stop after your meeting.

Q. What is “mobbing” in the workplace?

A. Mobbing refers to a group of employees bullying an individual. Whether coordinated or not, the pattern includes targeting the individual with behaviors generally considered to be harassment. These include “ganging up” on an individual in an effort to force him or her to quit or be transferred. The employee may be targeted with rumors, intimidation, humiliation, or social isolation. These behaviors are generally not sexual or racial in their context, but their maliciousness constitutes harassment.

Q. We have some pretty uncivil people in our workplace. I'm not talking about bullying, but people will leave nasty notes, give others the silent treatment, withhold information or exclude someone from a group lunch or activity. What can I do to help change this environment?

A. Lost productivity, diminished employee loyalty, and turnover costs all stem from incivility in the workplace. Workplace incivility often stems from the absence of visible, proactive leadership and regular communication. If you have characteristically been visibly absent or you seldom meet to discuss team issues, start doing so. You may see some of these behaviors instantly stop. Employees take their cues from you on how to speak, behave, and engage with others. They notice your attitude, demeanor, personality, disposition, and how you treat others. All of these things play a role in influencing their behavior. You possess a natural form of power that comes from the right to be in charge, make decisions, and enforce standards. This is wonderful leverage for creating a positive work environment. Incivility is motivated by the desire to exert power over another, demonstrate frustration, or attain something desired. Tell employees you want a more civil workplace and expect it to happen. You may be surprised at how fast things can turn around.

Q. I know what bullying in the workplace means, but recently I heard the term "mobbing" in the workplace? What does that mean?

A. Mobbing is a form of bullying. It is used in the literature to describe a group of employees bullying another employee, as opposed to bullying perpetrated by a single employee. Supervisory personnel may be unaware of mobbing because employee behavior is often covert. An aggressive form of mobbing would include a group of employees who target an employee by using rumor, innuendo, intimidation, and isolation in order to force that person to resign. Mobbing can impose significant psychological stress on individuals that can result in low productivity, depression, and emotional stress. If you identify mobbing behavior in the workplace, act to end it immediately, and refer victims to Personal Assistance Service for supportive counseling. In deciding how to deal with the those involved in mobbing behavior you might consult with Staff and Labor Relations.

Q. What are the most common bullying behaviors in the workplace? I would like to know what they are so I am more likely to spot them or believe employees when they come to me with complaints.

A. According to one study, the most common bullying behaviors in the workplace include:

  • falsely accusing someone of errors,
  • staring at, glaring at, and nonverbally intimidating the person,
  • discounting the person's thoughts or feelings, such as saying: "Oh, I can tell you're new here," or "Duh, everyone knows that,'" or giving a coworker or subordinate the silent treatment, and
  • making rules up on the fly.

Other common bullying tactics include back-stabbing behavior, assigning undesirable work, and socially isolating someone from coworkers. You can learn more about bullying behaviors by visiting Any efforts you take to educate your employees about bullying is a positive step toward preventing it from occurring. As you can see, some of these behaviors are difficult to measure, but knowing how to recognize bullying behavior will help you hear employee complaints with a more open mind so that you are less likely to minimize or discount what they are experiencing.

Intimidating Behavior

Q. Supervisors must be skilled at dealing with difficult people and personalities, but few get formally trained to do so. Can you provide "general tips" on managing difficult individuals?

A. Many resources attempt to name and categorize personality styles and offer specific interventions, but the following serve as general advice for supervisors:

  1. Interrupt the difficult employee's pattern early by counseling the employee to make necessary changes,
  2. Document the problem well: include what happened, and describe in measureable terms the impact of the difficult behavior on others, productivity, work processes, and/or work climate,
  3. Share your documentation with your HR representative to ensure that it is adequate. A difficult employee often has well-practiced defense mechanisms to employ against poor or mediocre documentation,
  4. Meet with your employee, and use the documentation in your meeting,
  5. Record the outcome, and produce a letter of agreement between you and your employee about changes to be made,
  6. Reinforce changes with praise, but do not make global statements of how outstanding a performer you believe your employee to be. These could undermine your attempts to take needed administrative or disciplinary steps in the future.

Q. What am I supposed to do with an employee who is obviously smart but is always showing off how much he knows about what's legal for me to do as a supervisor, what the organization can't do, etc. It is a bit intimidating.

A. The employee you describe may have difficulty feeling responsible or subordinate to you, so controlling you by discussing or referencing legal matters to intimidate you is an effective way of feeling more in control. A wide range of issues can contribute to this negative and problematic behavior, including anger, mental health issues, and more. The behavior is inappropriate and disruptive to communication and building a working relationship, so it should be addressed. Consult with PAS for guidance on your approach. Often, a PAS counselor can spot tangential issues or consider underlying contributing factors to a problem like this one. Let your supervisor or leadership staff be aware of the difficulty you are experiencing with this employee. Doing so is prudent because issues of this nature are too important to ignore or manage in isolation.

Impulsive Behavior

Q.  Is immaturity a performance issue that PAS can address? My employee exhibits adolescent-like behaviors such as interrupting, inappropriate laughing or joking, and creating minor annoyances that disrupt the workplace.

A.  Document the behavior and the time and place of these occurrences. Then, meet with your employee to insist that they end. Go through your list. Don't label the employee and be careful about deciding that these behaviors point to "immaturity." The commonalities of these behaviors appear to be impulsivity and lack of self-control. Inability to exercise self-control points to other issues. Regardless, PAS staff can help. While you are taking care of the necessary management and administrative decisions, PAS is the resource available to your employee to help him or her identify ways to exercise more self-control in the workplace.

Fitness for Duty: Mental and Emotional Impairments

Q. How do I know whether an employee's behavior reflects mental illness to the point of needing a psychiatrist or professional counselor? And should I refer to Personal Assistance Service first or seek a fitness-for-duty examination from Employee Occupational Health and Wellness?

A. You will not be able to make a determination of mental illness in your official capacity as a supervisor. Getting too focused on whether your employee is mentally ill or impaired will lead to a delay in taking appropriate action. In an extreme situation, this could create a hazard for others. If you witness unsafe behavior that interferes with the workplace or jeopardizes a safe work environment, or if you see behavior that in your judgment indicates the employee is unable to perform essential duties safely, then follow the fitness-for-duty policy. For more information about fitness for duty procedures contact EOHW at 919-684-3136. A Personal Assistance Service referral may also be appropriate in tandem with this step, but safety issues take priority over the success of a Personal Assistance Service referral, which can come after a fitness-for-duty assessment by EOHW. A consultation with Personal Assistance Service is also available to you as you navigate through this process of helping your employee.

Q. My employee is a diligent worker, but over the past couple of months, this person has mentioned to a few employees concerns about being followed by "foreign government agents" who tap the phone at work. I know the employee is distressed. Should I make a referral?

A. Your employee appears to trust you enough to share these concerns, which can be helpful in convincing the person to seek support. Discussing beliefs that are obviously of a delusional nature are distressing to coworkers, but mental illnesses that include delusions are not uncommon. An evaluation is appropriate to rule out other risks or issues and to assist the employee in obtaining any necessary treatment.

First, you may want to make your manager aware of this situation in order to get support and guidance for any future departmental steps that might need to be taken to help this employee. Secondly, recommending PAS to your employee is definitely appropriate. You would want to call PAS to consult with them about the potential referral before recommending PAS to the employee. Assure the employee that PAS is the correct source for guidance. If you think it would be helpful to the employee, you can assist them by calling the PAS office while they are with you. If you are not successful with getting the employee to make a PAS appointment, you should consult with PAS about the next step. Given some of the information you have about the distress this person is experiencing, and your concerns, you may need to contact Employee Occupational Health and Wellness to have them assess this employees' fitness for duty. Determining an employee's fitness for duty is especially important when their behavior poses job risks.


Q. I don't want to be the cause of my employees burning out, but there is no way I can distribute less work to them. Can you offer tips for how to balance these issues? Any hard data to back up those tips?

A. When discussing burnout, it is important to describe what the term means, given the context of the work situation. A report from the National Institute of Health in 2017 reminds us that burnout is not an official mental health diagnosis, that the definitions are drastically non-uniform across research studies, and that many symptoms included in these definitions are also associated with depression. So, who may be suffering from burned out is not easy to determine. A recent Gallup survey of German workers may have discovered an answer that will help you in considering how to engage with your workers. Those who received regular praise and recognition for good work, had proper materials and equipment to deliver quality work, and felt their opinion counted had lower feelings of burnout. How much control do you have over these factors? It appears that most supervisors have quite a bit.