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Can an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Solve Performance and Discipline Problems?

An employee assistance program is a company-sponsored program instituted to help employees deal with personal problems that are interfering with their productivity. Such problems include alcoholism, marital difficulties, depression, and other psychological concerns. The counselors are not company employees but independent contracts—usually specialists who provide this service to several organizations.

Managers should be trained to recognize when the kind of specialized counseling from EAP may be needed and to suggest that their employees take advantage of the training. In some instances, the company may require that the employee assistance program be used as part of a disciplinary action. For instance, an alcoholic may be given the choice of using the corporate EAP to overcome her problem or being terminated.

EAP has been proven to salvage many skilled and experienced people. But it doesn’t always work. If you find that the individual’s performance continues to be below standard despite lengthy EAP help, you may have to terminate the individual. A final warning should be given in a meeting with the employee that a further discipline incident or other problem in performance will result in his termination.

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Most EAP programs include the following specialists:

Medical doctors. Physicians may deal with general medical problems or specific disorders.

Psychiatrists. These physicians specialize in serious psychological and emotional disorders.

Psychologists or psychotherapists. These individuals work with people who have less serious emotional problems.

Marital counselors or family therapists. These specialists deal with marital problems and difficulties with children or other family members.

Financial counselors. Since many of the worries people have are about money, financial counselors can help them work out payment plans with creditors, develop budgets, and live within their incomes.

Whether the employee agrees to accept the EAP referral or not, you should make clear that work performance must improve. Set specific objectives and specific time periods for performance improvement. In the end, the employee should leave the meeting with you with three clear messages: (1) You are concerned and eager to help; (2) you have identified problems with her work; and (3) work performance must improve or termination may be warranted.