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Signs and Symptoms of a Troubled Employee for Trainers In Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)s

Posted by Daniel Feerst, BSW, MSW, LISW-CP on



Educating supervisors about the signs and symptoms of a troubled employee (or less politically correct: problem employee) contains three important objectives: 1) providing a solid list of the signs and

signs and symptoms of a troubled employee problem employee

symptoms within the context of the workplace; 2) Helping supervisors avoid jumping to armchair diagnostic thinking and behaviors, some of which can be very subtle; and 3) Understanding how to document, confront, and refer workers to an employer/corporate authorized source of help and assessment like an EAP (not treatment or counseling, which is beyond the supervisor/manager's abilities,and which will increase risk to the employer.)

We will discuss the first objective and I will blog later to address the second and third parts of our goal of educating supervisors in signs and symptoms of a troubled employee. 

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Purchase the editable and reproducible editable tip sheet in "Signs and Symptoms of a Troubled Employee" here (along with other supervisor training tip sheets and workplace wellness handouts.
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Typical Signs and Symptoms

Although not an exhaustive list, the signs and symptoms shown below fall into five categories, all of which fall under the umbrella heading of job performance. Job performance is not "quality of work" per se. Quality of work rather, is one part of job performance. Job performance can include anything within these six categories: 1) Quality of work; 2) Conduct (behavior) on the Job; 3) Attitude/demeanor on the Job 4) Attendance/absenteeism; 5) Availability 6) Appearance. The following list shows 40 lines, but there are about 60 distinct issues listed below when examined closely.

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1. Observed drug or alcohol use during breaks or meal periods, or during work hours.
2. Observed drug or alcohol use preceding the start of the work day.
3. The smell of marijuana or alcohol on the employee.
4. Lapses of attention, with increased inability to concentrate.Appears not to pay attention in conversations.
5. Physical signs of needle use on arms (blood marks on arms or hands)
6. Accidents with or without injury on the job.
7. Observed confusion and difficulty in handling assignments.
8. Sleeping on the job.
9. Agitated behavior
10. Hyperactivity and anxiousness uncharacteristic of the employee
11. Employee found with evidence of alcohol or drug use on or near person (bottles, paraphernalia, etc.)
12. Absence from work post/site without good reason, without notice, or without authorization.
13. Shaking and tremulousness (such an employee may be a safety risk in withdrawal, although may not be under the influence.)
14. Disturbed psychomotor coordination: stumbling, etc.
15. Odor of alcohol on the breath (different that smelling of alcohol above, which may result from metabolism of alcohol)
16. Slurred speech
17. Inappropriate attitude, character, or speech in reference to specific events
18. Inappropriate laughter and giddiness
19. Red or bloodshot eyes
20. Complaints from fellow workers about attitude, behavior, team player issues, profanity, unpredictability.
21. Overreaction to real, or imagined criticism and paranoid behavior.
22. Violent behavior, loudness, or aggressiveness.
23. Third person report of OBSERVED employee action—a determined reliable and credible source.
24. Exaggerated work accomplishments.Inability to recognize others’ contributions, opinions, feelings, needs for validation.
25. Grandiose, aggressive, and/or belligerent behavior toward coworkers, supervisor, customers, students, parents, public.
26. Unreasonable resentments — “people are out to get me.” “There is a conspiracy against me.”
27. Domestic problems interfere with work, attendance, conduct on the job.
28. Evidence of financial problems, including borrowing or attempting to borrow money from coworkers.
29. Deterioration of hygiene and personal appearance.
30. Apparent loss of ethical values. Demonstrates disrespect toward supervisor and coworkers.
31. Property is damaged, tools lost, or stolen while in possession or being watched or guarded by employee.
32. Excessive personal phone calls, pagers, use of cell phone while at work.
33. Mood swings during the day.
34. Mood swings from one day to the next.Unwillingness to “pitch in” and help out coworkers.
35. Complaints of not feeling well to the exclusion of duties.
36. Claims of getting help for various personal problems without improving job performance, attendance, or attitude.
37. Inappropriate requests for outstanding recognition of mediocre job performance.
38. Excessive apologizing for work, attendance problems, etc.,without correcting problematic behavior.
39. Refusal to follow reasonable instructions of work supervisor.
40. Complaints of sexual or other types of harassment from coworkers/visitors/customers.
41. Disparaging remarks, jokes, and humor of an ethnic or racial nature.
42. Use of profanity on the job that is offensive to coworkers.

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