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


Q. I am feeling burned out. I am exhausted, apathetic, and frustrated. Can PAS help me get out of this state of mind?

A. Here are ways PAS can help: 1) Assess the degree to which burnout is affecting your physical health (a medical referral may follow); 2) Identify the ways in which burnout has affected your work-life balance, with the goal of planning a return-to-wellness strategy, particularly with regard to depression; 3) Offer suggestions for intervention strategies outside of work that can help you return to a more fully functioning state of engagement within your organization; 4) Help you examine on-the-job interventions, some of which may require discussion with your boss in order to implement them; and 5) Follow up with you to facilitate, monitor, and help you implement your work life balance plan.

Q. How can supervisors support employees who suffer from depression? I know at least two within my group of workers who are on medication. I don't pry or get personally involved, but I don't want to be completely unaware of what might be helpful to them.

A. Recognize that depression is a disease like other chronic illnesses, and that it is managed, usually with the help of medication and counseling. The patient and their provider will work together to reduce symptoms in order to prevent interference with social and occupational functioning. Symptoms may lead employees to be less assertive about their needs when they are discussing their thoughts, feelings, or ideas around a project or work problem. Do not misinterpret this as laziness or unprofessionalism. A workplace experiencing stress or undergoing serious changes can also make depression worse. Encourage all employees to be open with you about their needs and how you can support them. Remind them that Personal Assistance Service is a resource for them, but also hold employees to the standards reasonably expected for their positions.

Q. Do some employees with depression still function satisfactorily at work? If so, could they perform even better and more happily if treated? I have employees who appear depressed, and I don't know if I should refer them to Personal Assistance Service. But, I bet they would benefit if they went.

A. Many depressed employees can function at work adequately, but if treated would likely experience improvement in their social and occupational functioning. Some employees may suspect they have untreated depression, and some may not identify it at all because they have slowly adapted to its symptoms over an extended period. A crisis may bring these individuals into contact with outpatient mental health services, where the diagnosis is first identified. Depressed employees may appear slow to respond, lacking in energy, or resist engaging with others. Suggest a self-referral to Personal Assistance Service for obvious symptoms only, such as "you look really tired." If work tasks cannot be accomplished satisfactorily, consider a formal Supervisor/Management referral to Personal Assistance Service. Be careful to avoid labeling the personality of a depressed worker as lazy, quiet, unassuming, or "eccentric." When this happens, others in your work group may follow your lead and begin working around the employee. This will only lead to the condition lingering and the employee missing an opportunity to get the appropriate help.

Q. My employee's four-year-old child is coming to work with her this week because, according to my employee, there are "some logistical problems" at home. I did agree to make this concession. I am aware that my employee's brother was released from prison recently and moved in with her. I am worried that a safety issue exists. What should I do?

A. It is prudent and appropriate to understand what might be going on here. Ask your employee if she is concerned about the safety of her child at home. This may alleviate your concern or suggest further steps. This action is not probing or being intrusive because you have concerns about a child's welfare. Contact Personal Assistance Service to consult with one of the counselors regarding this matter. There may be no serious issues at home, but something is clearly out of the ordinary, and the Personal Assistance Service counselor can help you sort out what your responsibility is in this situation. Personal assistance Service can also suggest ways you can encourage the employee to self-refer to PAS. The counseling staff at Personal Assistance Service are expert motivational interviewers and have the skills and the assurances of confidentiality needed to understand more about you employee's situation than she may be willing to tell you.

Q. How can supervisors play a role in helping employees not bring their problems to work, and separating their home life from their work life so productivity is not affected?

A. It is likely that when employees are unable to effectively cope with and manage personal or family problems their work performance may be affected. Perhaps one of the more challenging roles for the supervisor is to begin a discussion outlining the supervisor's expectations that personal problems should not interfere with the employee's productivity, attendance, quality of work, availability, and attitude. No supervisor will be able to prevent an employee from bringing his or her personal problems to work. However, supervisors can play a powerful role in helping employees seek help earlier before interference occurs. Personal Assistance Service is available to consult with supervisors and managers about employees whose personal problems are interfering with work productively and to give you information about how we are a viable resource to help employees to effectively manage their personal and family problems.

Q. We experienced a sudden death of an employee. Some of the Personal Assistance Service staff came to meet with employees and to offer support, but some close co-workers of the deceased employee didn't show for the meeting. I was surprised. Should I be concerned?

A. It is not uncommon for meetings of this type to be initially avoided by those directly affected by the death. They simply may not yet be ready to share their reactions with others. These employees may demonstrate their grief later or in a different way. Let the PAS staff offer guidance on steps you can take to help your employees respond to their grief. One resource that supervisors have found helpful in assisting employees is the "Grief in the Workplace" information on the PAS website. You might let employees know they can come together for follow-up meetings to share and talk with each other. These meetings in the workplace are valuable, and they almost invariably become collaborative planning sessions where coworkers take charge of logistics, communication, funeral assistance, supporting the family, honoring the worker's memory, planning meals, tending to household chores, dealing with pets, managing the employee's belongings, and more. Be attuned to the productivity levels of your employees in the coming months and suggest Personal Assistance Service for those who struggle to return to a desired level of productivity.

Q. Must everything we do as supervisors fall under the heading of "being a role model?" Personally, I think it is good to loosen up every once in a while so that employees see we are real people who can have a good time.

A. It may not seem fair, but your employees are continuously judging you by your behaviors. By virtue of your position, every behavior you exhibit to employees is viewed in the context of you as a role model. This is an inescapable dynamic of workplace authority and supervision. But there is more to it. All behaviors of supervisors make an impression on employees because their behaviors are symbolic. They tell your employees what you value, what you support, and what you stand for. This is a powerful tool in leadership. Not understanding this dynamic can cause you to lose their respect, along with harming your ability to influence and shape a team. Unfortunately, this easily happens when supervisors feel uncomfortable with this power or believe that being "one of the guys (or gals)" is more important.

Q. I know supervisors should play a role in reducing stress, but my big fear is that the penalty for helping employees reduce stress is lower productivity. Isn't it a catch-22?

A. Many supervisors fear that if they are proactive in helping employees deal with stress, everyone in the workplace will slow down, thereby harming productivity. According to the 2016 Work and Well-Being Survey released in June by the American Psychological Association, the five most stressful problems facing employees are long hours, low pay, lack of opportunity for growth and advancement, too heavy a workload, and unrealistic job expectations. The survey shows that at least 40%-50% of employees report either "very significant stress" or "somewhat significant stress" associated with these factors. Supervisors obviously have varying degrees of control over changing some of the above mentioned stressors in the workplace. However, simply by talking with your employees, you will discover ways that are within your control to reduce their stress and yet not reduce their productivity. In fact, reducing employee stress is more likely to increase productivity.

Source: [Search: "2016 work life study"]

Q. I believe I manage my own stress on the job well and stay positive with the health habits I’ve established. However, my employees are really stressed. What role can I play to support my employees and reduce their stress?

A. There are several ways stress can exhibit itself in the work setting. Most stress falls within three manifestations: daily strain, burnout, and disengagement. Each type of stress can benefit from different interventions. Personal Assistance Service staff can consult with you on what role you might play in responding to the different expressions of stress. Daily work strain responds best to health habits that mitigate stress, including diet, exercise, proper breaks, and stress management techniques that build resilience. In this regard, there is nothing improper in your sharing tips and successes you have experienced in managing stress. In fact, it is a good idea, because a positive attitude is contagious, and modeling is a powerful way to influence your team. Always encourage employees to use Personal Assistance Service. No matter how many employees contact Personal Assistance Service, they will be accommodated.

Q. I read that January 25, 2016, will be the most depressing day of the year. Why is this true? Does it have any implications for supervisors in managing employees?

A. The specific date changes year to year, but the third Monday in January has been coined Blue Monday. There is nothing scientific about this day being the most depressing day of the year, but it has a useful purpose in helping people become more aware of depression, its symptoms, and its treatments. The hope in promoting the day is to motivate those needing help to get it. The day was created by a researcher who pointed out that this day represents the gloomiest day because (in the northern hemisphere) it frequently has minimal sunlight, plenty of cold and gloomy weather, and holiday bills coming due—and those factors are compounded by New Year’s resolutions that have already been broken. The day is a good one for employees to be reminded that Personal Assistance Service is available to help and for supervisors to be reminded they should consider referrals to PAS as needed.

Q. We hear a lot about how much anxiety employees experience because of work demands, technology, resource constraints, and our culture. What can supervisors do to help?

A. Anxiety encompasses an array of mental health conditions, but supervisors are most likely to encounter employees who may experience a mixture of mild depression and anxiety disorders that, although distressing, aren't deep-rooted conditions requiring long-term treatment. These include being worried or fearful about the future, facing work/domestic life and caregiver challenges, contending with financial stress, the effects of poor sleep, strain in personal relationships, and the inability to concentrate at work. Dealing with anxiety can also create dependability issues in the workplace. You may also see an employee's mood and appetite affected, and you may witness fits of irritability, poor concentration, and forgetfulness. An employee may experience headaches more commonly or get aches and pains exacerbated by stress. Heart palpitations, restlessness, and being "keyed up" and "on edge" may also be evident. As these symptoms emerge, encourage employees to use Personal Assistance Service. The referral to Personal Assistance Service is the most helpful thing you can do. Always emphasize that Personal Assistance Service is a confidential benefit available at no cost to the employee.

Q. After a traumatic incident, what can supervisors do to play a helpful role in supporting employees? We aren't counselors, but employees look to us for direction and strength, so we can't ignore the situation.

A. Employees do naturally turn to supervisors during a crisis. Some may rely upon the supervisor as a leader for direction and guidance, some may vent anger toward them (e.g., "OK, you're in charge, so now what?"). Still others may seek a closer relationship, venting feelings and seeking empathy and a stronger bond because often during a time of crises the wall of formality momentarily falls. Some may treat the supervisor like a parent. Recognize that these and many more are normal responses following critical incidents. You should not counsel employees, but be accepting of different reactions. Be alert to more extreme reactions from employees that signal a need for the support of Personal Assistance Service and coordinate with PAS how to best employ their services with your group. The Personal Assistance Service staff is trained in helping organizations that have experienced traumatic incidents. Your visibility and presence will have a healing effect, so it is important to be with employees as much as possible. After an incident, employees want information, so keep it flowing. It reduces anxiety dramatically. Finally, ask the Personal Assistance Service staff about tips for taking care of you.

Q. Many of my employees have financial problems. Do employee financial problems put organizations at risk in any way? As a supervisor I am concerned about the well-being of my employees, their fitness for duty and helping to prevent any behavioral risk to the organization.

A. Studies suggest that about 30 million employees nationally face severe financial stress - that represents about 25 percent of the workforce. This figure is up nearly 300 percent from 30 years ago. The ways this stress affects employers are not readily visible, but can be substantial. The average employee with financial problems loses 20 work hours per month dealing with financial issues. Financial stress is also linked to an increased risk of accidents. Accidents increase workers' compensation costs and create ripple effects that impact productivity. Financial stress can also affect personal health and workplace productivity due to sleep disturbances, hypertension, and anxiety. If you suspect that financial stress may be impacting the health or work of an employee, it would be helpful and appropriate to recommend Personal Assistance Service. The Personal Assistance Service counselor will assist the employee by providing direct services or referral services to deal with their financial problems.

Q. I hear a lot about stress management techniques, but frankly, none of them work for me. What can a supervisor in my position do? I feel I am about one inch away from burnout. I could call Personal Assistance Service, but doesn't that just mean I'll be taught more stress management techniques?

A. Managing stress is not just about practicing exercises to reduce its effect. Working with a Personal Assistance counselor will allow you to develop a plan or approach to address the unique issues you face. You'll examine specific behaviors that impede your ability to manage stress or that make it worse and be introduced to other behaviors designed to intervene or address underlying causes of your stress. Everyone faces stress and copes with it differently. These coping strategies are not necessarily conscious choices. They may simply be harmful or maladaptive reactions to circumstances. These behaviors may include overwork, denial of the stress, increased multitasking or avoiding discussing problems, to name a few. Consulting with Personal Assistance Service will give you an opportunity to examine the different layers to your stress like peeling an onion, and discover new, healthier, and adaptive behaviors that will help you to manage stress effectively.

Q. Many changes are affecting our organization, which has led some employees to complain often. What communication techniques can deflect some of this and encourage employees to adapt and accept necessary changes?

A. Some employees will complain about change, while others will not. Employees in the latter group may cope and adapt faster. Be empathic, but a reality check is also appropriate. Realize that accepting change usually includes a bit of denial, so some complaining can be expected. Let employees know you understand their fears and anxieties, but also say, "It is important for all of us to make a conscious decision that we will figure out how to face the challenges caused by change." Employees will benefit from you speaking confidently about the changes and why they are needed. Encourage employees to have an attitude that demonstrates a focus on what is within their control and that letting go of what is not within their control is part of adapting to change. You can also consult with Personal Assistance Service as needed to discuss specific situations and support.

Q. Why is change, even when it is a good change, such a difficult thing for employees? What can be done in advance to reduce resistance or conflict when a change is introduced?

Many organizations have experienced rapid change in recent years - change prompted by advances in technology, changes in regulatory or business processes, changes from economic pressures and more. Whether good or bad, change is often perceived first as a threat; in this sense threat means a challenge to the status quo and the familiar. When planning for change, have a communication strategy that helps employees understand why change is necessary, where the organization is heading, how changes will impact individuals/departments and what resources are available to assist them in adapting to change.

Anticipating potential objections to change can also help you think through how best to respond to those issue before they arise. Your work unit and organization can thrive with positive change, but without communication and patience, many problems risk sabotaging your organization's goals. Personal Assistance Service offers management consultation on change in the workplace and presentations to work groups who are experiencing change in the workplace.

Q. Many of my employees are concerned about the economy. Is there a greater risk of accidents or injury from distractions and stress related to concerns about the economy?

A. Some evidence exists that during economic downturns, stress, job reassignments, and layoffs can increase the risk of injuries and accidents. Remind employees to keep in mind that safety is always the first priority, especially during these periods. During stressful periods, you can help by being a good listener, showing empathy, and being willing to refer them to the Personal Assistance Service. Personal Assistance Service's counselors are skilled with helping employees develop effective tools to deal with stress.

Q. How can I help employees experience less stress regarding change in our organization? "Managing change" seems to be a catch phrase these days. Can you discuss a practical strategy to help us feel more in control over what feels uncontrollable?

A. Whether it's an organization or an individual employee facing change, stress can be reduced by remaining proactive in the face of certain or uncertain circumstances rather than reacting after the fact. Experiment with the following proactive model: Meet with employees if significant change is pending. Have a frank discussion about resistance to change - how resistance is normal (but undesirable) and how it could undermine the work group. Discuss both what is feared about the change and what new opportunities or rewards are presented. Next, discuss strategy. How does your group "get ahead" of the impact and prepare to exploit the positive aspects of the change? Finally, in the face of stress, how will your group support individual members who may experience more stress from the change than others experience? Personal Assistance Service is a resource for individual employees who may want to talk with a counselor about effective ways to manage stress when facing a change. Visit the Personal Assistance Service website for additional resources for managing stress, for example there are two video presentations titled Self-Care Strategies and Managing Stress in the Work Place. These video presentations may be used with your work group or individuals may view them.

Q. I've observed employees who have heavy workloads resisting organizational change even when they are able to finally share their work burden or give up work they complained about for years. Why?

A. When employees face organizational change, resistance is often observed, even if they personally benefit from it. This resistance is usually not evidence of employees having personal problems, and it is usually not cause for alarm. Much resistance to change can be prevented by educating employees about how they may respond to it. This education can vary in its complexity. At a minimum, employees should understand that if organizational change calls for giving up something like job duties or prestige, changing an office location, or losing coworkers, then resistance can emerge. Even the loss of a familiar routine or pride in a specific task can create resistance or conflict. The common denominator, of course, is loss. It is not always possible to prepare employees for change, but Personal Assistance Service can help or supplement organizational efforts at planning for change. This may include one-on-one counseling for groups of employees to help them examine personal reactions to change and loss, understand what is motivating resistance, and provide an opportunity for them confidentially share insecurities that undermine acceptance of the organization's change goals. Talk to Personal Assistance Service to learn more.

Q. I am sure many employees experience financial problems, but I don't hear much talk about it. Besides stress and worry, what are some of the symptoms employees might experience from financial problems?

A. A recent MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends discovered that about 44 percent of employees live paycheck to paycheck, and nearly 60 percent are very concerned about having enough money to make ends meet. Most people would agree that financial stress is difficult with its accompanying worry and distraction, but this is only part of the story. Many people endure financial stress alone because of stigma, fear of being judged by others, or feeling guilty because of overspending. These issues can keep employees from seeking help, even from a trusted program such as PAS. Financial stress can contribute to headaches, backaches, ulcers, increased blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and panic. Many employees will cope with financial stress using denial, wishful thinking, and/or coping strategies that relieve fear but don't help solve their problems. As problems worsen, risk increases for falling prey to payday loans, internet schemes, gambling, or other high-risk "remedies." Financial problems diminish one's sense of autonomy, feelings of security, and self-control. So with financial problems come increased workplace absenteeism, diminished workplace performance, and depression. All these things can adversely affect productivity.

Q. I support employees using PAS to help them manage stress, and I am happy to encourage them to do so, especially during these stressful times. What can I say to increase the likelihood that they will consider the program?

A. When encouraging use of Personal Assistance Service, go beyond merely mentioning the program as a helpful resource. Increase interested in using the program by reinforcing important aspects of PAS's unique approach, particularly the confidential nature of the program. Also, you can help debunk the stigma of seeking professional help for a personal problem. State that the person's job or career at Duke will not be impacted simply for using PAS. It can be helpful to mention specific types of problems many employees experience and emphasize how appropriate it is to seek help from PAS for these problems. Common issues include family problems, struggles with teenagers, or communication conflicts in couples' relationships. Repetition of a positive PAS message is one key to improve openness to using the program, but nothing is more powerful than a supervisor who encourages use of the program. Suggest to the employee that they visit the PAS website for information on a variety of topics entitled "Common Concerns." The topical information covered in "Common Concerns" may provide answers to a lot of employee questions.

Q. Stress is a significant issue for most workers, but is there any evidence of a link between stress among employees and loss of dollars to employers? What are the costs of stress?

A. Although it is difficult to define a specific dollar amount, there is large body of medical and social science research that suggests stress directly contributes to financial loss for employers. These costs tend to occur in four key areas: absenteeism, lost productivity, medical expenses, and turnover.

For example, stressed employees are more likely to stay home and take "mental health days" as a way to cope. Stress can cause health problems, of course, but it can also make existing health problems worse, especially preexisting autoimmune disorders. Did you know that stressed employees feel more powerless and are more likely to complain, file grievances, file lawsuits, have more accidents, make more errors, and experience more conflicts? When you see evidence of employees under stress, remember PAS can help. You can refer staff and faculty to PAS, a confidential service available at no cost to the employee. Learn more about PAS on its website.

Q. Referring an employee to PAS for stress can be difficult. What behaviors strongly indicate that employees are too stressed? If I know the behavioral issues and spot them, I can then suggest to the employee that they use PAS based upon what I am seeing.

A. You have a role in maintaining a safe and healthy work environment, so you should keep an eye open for behavior or conduct that interferes with safety or productivity, including symptoms of stress. Look for visible behaviors such as anxiety, indecisiveness, irritability, complaints, forgetfulness, loss of self-confidence, customer conflicts, complaints of insomnia, sleeping on the job or coming back late from lunch because of oversleeping on breaks, argumentativeness, moodiness, crying and mood swings, and leaving early with complaints of physical exhaustion. Any of these behaviors could justify a referral to PAS for support.

Q. Many employees are stressed, but some are so stressed that it seems they are distressed employees. I would like to know what the signs and symptoms are of a distressed employee so I determine if I should recommend that an individual visit with someone from Personal Assistance Service. Can a seriously distressed employee still perform satisfactorily?

A. Distressed employees experience great pain, anxiety, or sorrow, and they may be faced with acute physical or mental suffering. It is possible that distressed employees could mask their symptoms and perform satisfactorily yet still be at risk for greater mental or physical problems. Some research findings suggest that distressed employees spend about $1,700 more on healthcare per year than other employees, have more ER visits, and utilize their primary care physician much more often. It is not possible or advisable to give supervisors a list of signs and symptoms to help them diagnose distress, but as a general rule, encourage your employees to take advantage of the Personal Assistance Service when you witness talk of hopelessness and worthlessness, the inability to be cheerful or smile, or if they always appear tired and worn out.