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

Referrals to Personal Assistance Service for Counseling

Q. My employee periodically visits PAS, but this has been going on for a year. I thought PAS was short-term counseling?

A. PAS may meet with employees periodically to discuss their progress in treatment or counseling, or to evaluate how well they are following through with other recommendations. Recovery from certain illnesses like alcoholism takes work, lots of dedication to a recovery program, and support with overcoming challenges, stressors, and life events that can precipitate relapse. Periodic meetings with PAS clients are typically on an as-needed basis with those who may be considered more at-risk for recurring problems related to job performance or issues originally addressed in the first appointment. An employee who is not following through with a doctor or community treatment program's recommendation may be asked by PAS to come to an appointment to better understand difficulties the employee may be having with attendance, participation, or cooperation with the provider.

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.

Q. I have always been a little resistant to referring my star performers to Personal Assistance Service. Instead, I have discussed personal problems with them. I realize this is not the right approach, but I fear the word might get out and damage their careers if they are being helped by Personal Assistance Service. I suppose I have been protective of them. Can you help me with this issue?

A. There is an important dynamic worth understanding when it comes to helping employees who you also supervise with their personal problems. This is the "dual relationship" conflict where the employment relationship interferes with your ability to play the role of a counselor. You cannot successfully navigate this dynamic. Playing both roles of boss and counselor interferes with employees' ability to share complete information that is potentially critical to resolving their problem. You may hear only 95 percent of what's going on, and therefore offer the wrong advice, discuss the wrong problem, or at best facilitate half-measures that make the problem worse. A better approach is to encourage your employees to phone Personal Assistance Service and allow them to make their own decision about seeking counseling. Personal Assistance Service staff operates by the strictest confidentiality rules. Consider talking with the Personal Assistance staff about confidentiality to gain a better understanding of how truly safe Personal Assistance Service counseling is for employees.

Q. What if I refer an employee to Personal Assistance Service and the employee doesn't want to go? Isn't it important for the employee to believe he or she needs help so it is not a waste of Personal Assistance Services' time?

A. The Personal Assistance Service staff would not consider it a waste of time to meet with an employee who at first appears unmotivated, in denial, or otherwise convinced he or she does not need help. If the employee did not come on his or her own volition, it's quite possible that he or she may later develop motivation, desire, and insight to remain in counseling.  The Personal Assistance Service staff's use of a thorough assessment and interviewing techniques called motivational counseling often serve to increase participants' motivation so that they more willingly engage in the help process.  When supervisors refer an employee to Personal Assistance Service who is not convinced he or she needs help, it is not unusual for the employee to come to that first meeting with one or more of the following three common viewpoints: 1) It's my supervisor's fault-I am not the one with the problem; 2) I am only here because I was told I had to come; and 3) I have no idea why I am here.  These statements don't catch Personal Assistance Service staff by surprise, and they know how to address each one.

Q. On occasion, an employee will come to me with a personal problem. How can I best refer them to seek assistance through Personal Assistance Service in a way they will be more receptive to act on it? I don't want to appear as if I'm rejecting them by not offering to help address the issue myself.

A. You raise an important question. You don't want an employee who musters the courage to come to you with a personal problem to go away feeling rejected. To do so would decrease the likelihood of the employee accepting a referral to Personal Assistance Service. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Listen and give some indication that you understand what is being shared, then
  2. Praise the employee for coming to you, (e.g., "Mary, I am glad you felt comfortable coming to me with this.").
  3. Reflect what you heard or summarize the details (e.g., "So, the bottom line is that your landlord is forcing you to leave and you have nowhere to go?").
  4. Set the stage for referral using this logical path: (e.g., "Mary, a lot of personal information is needed to help solve this problem. As your supervisor, I am not in the best position to offer assistance with this issue, but the staff at Personal Assistance service is well qualified to help. Can I help you arrange an appointment to see them?").
  5. Allow the employee to phone PAS without delay while motivation is high.

Q. I have two employees who are in continuous conflict. I'm fed up with lecturing them, so I am making a formal supervisor referral to Personal Assistance Service. Should I meet with them together and refer them to the Personal Assistance Service as a pair, or should I meet with them separately and refer them individually?

A. Meet with your employees separately, and refer each individually to the Personal Assistance Service. There may come a point in time when the Personal Assistance Service counselor recommends they meet together in a session, but beginning this process with separate appointments and assessments will make subsequent meetings more productive and resolving differences more likely. When coworkers are in conflict, visible and not-so-visible issues exists that fuel the conflict. These may be personal, psychological, or even outside the awareness of one or both parties. Either way, the issues can't be easily identified without a confidential, individual interview that allows the Personal Assistance Service counselor to examine each employee's view of the conflict, what caused it, why it is perpetuated, and how it might be resolved. The two employees involved in a conflict may find it helpful to view an audio-visual PowerPoint presentation on the Personal Assistance Service website entitled Working with Difficult Co-Workers. This presentation offers some tips on resolving conflicts between co-workers. Staff and Labor Relations is also a resource for conflict mediation. You can reach them at 919 684-2808 or 919-684-5557.

Q. When performance issues stem from personal problems at home, it may be appropriate to demonstrate patience while the employee seeks help. Unfortunately, many employees seem to have chronic problems. How can supervisors influence employees to seek more enduring solutions to personal problems?

A. Follow-up is the key to helping employees remain successful after referral to Personal Assistance Service. Don't underestimate how long it may take to address an issue. Follow-up means regularly meeting with an employee to discuss performance, reinforcing progress, and trouble-shooting obstacles. Even if performance issues stem from personal problems, the employee is still expected to take primary responsibility for improving those issues. Another area of follow-up involves getting regular feedback from the Personal Assistance Service counselor (with a signed release) so that you can confirm if the employee is continuing to participate and cooperate with recommendations made by the Personal Assistance Service counselor. Open communication that involves this type of cooperation between employee, Personal Assistance Service, and supervisor is crucial. In its absence, the risk of problems continuing is high. Ask the Personal Assistance Service counselor about the recommended length of time for follow-up. Some personal problems are easier to treat and manage than others. Those that require more personal sacrifice and lifestyle changes tend to have the highest relapse rates, making follow-up critical to successful resolution of performance problems.

Q. What can I promise employees with regard to confidentiality at Personal Assistance Service when they ask about it?

A. When employees ask about confidentiality, they are usually seeking assurance that they are protected against repercussions, improper disclosure, and harm to their job status as a result of using Personal Assistance Service (PAS). Personal Assistance Service policies, which are found on the PAS website describes our confidentiality parameters, so reinforce what's already in writing. Personal Assistance Service requires informed consent from employees before they could release any information about the employee. You might also reassure your employee that Personal Assistance Staff will answer any questions at the time of an appointment or beforehand by phone. Continue to reinforce the strict confidential nature of Personal Assistance Service whenever you refer to it in the course of your activities and role as a supervisor. Doing so will help ensure a sense of trust and credibility between employees and PAS so it is more likely at-risk employees will seek help, and thereby reduce risk to the organization.

Q. I know supervisors should not try to help employees with their personal problems and should refer the employee to Personal Assistance Service instead. How do I manage this transition when I've always played this role?

A. You can still be a warm and approachable supervisor who listens. In fact, nothing could be more helpful to the staff at Personal Assistance Service (PAS), because you are trusted by employees and in an ideal position to facilitate their self-referral to PAS. The important issue is avoiding the counseling role. Crossing this line impedes the employee's motivation to seek proper help from PAS. Listen and be encouraging and supportive, but continue to make the employee aware that PAS offers trained counselors as a confidential resource to help them with their problems.

Q. Can you give me a checklist of what I should remember to do after I refer an employee to Personal Assistance Service?

A. The purpose of following up is to evaluate and monitor the improved performance of your employee whose original conduct led to the formal PAS referral. Consider the following:

  1. Schedule regular meetings to review performance after the referral;
  2. With formal supervisor referrals, request that the release of confidentiality signed by your employee remain active; so that you can consult with PAS immediately if performance problems return or new ones emerge;
  3. Expect satisfactory performance;
  4. Reject excuses blamed on slow treatment progress at PAS; and
  5. Keep your focus on job performance as evidence of improvement, not the discoveries and positive insights shared by your employee learned in treatment or professional counseling.

Q. Did Personal Assistance Service fail to work if performance problems remained after the employee went to the program and cooperated with the recommendations made by the PAS counselor? What's next now if problems persist?

A. Not every employee referred to Personal Assistance Service will resolve personal problems or performance issues. Ideally, employees who received services from PAS should return to prior levels of performance or even better, but that does not always happen. You can also make another supervisor referral to Personal Assistance Service. The second session can make a difference. Personal Assistance Service is committed to being there as a management consultant for you and as resource tool for employees, but employees are in control of whether they use the PAS services and benefit from them. If PAS referrals do not make a difference, you should consult with Staff and Labor Relations about your options for your next step.

Q. I have never referred an employee to Personal Assistance Service, but I have an employee who I think could benefit from a referral. What is the most important thing I can do to convince the employee to go if there are no serious performance issues? There are a few workplace concerns, but they have not risen to the level of "serious" yet.

A. The most common reasons employees hesitate to visit an employee assistance service like Personal Assistance Service include fear of the unknown, anxiety about being asked personal questions and concerns about confidentiality. You can reassure your employee that no personal information will be forthcoming to you and that seeking help from Personal Assistance Service will not be reflected in their personnel file, and it is confidential. Realize that some employees may never go to the PAS, but an employee might feel motivated to seek help from PAS if she or he feels counseling will give them skills and solutions to problems that are beginning to have an effect on their work performance.