Being an Effective Supervisor As Part of a Successful Drug-Free Workplace Program

As a supervisor, your primary role is to observe and help improve employee job performance while documenting work problems and successes, as you effectively implement your organization’s policies and programs.   To this end, you must conduct appraisals of job performance issues.

Confronting an employee about unsatisfactory job performance or conduct isn’t easy.  There’s no way to know how an employee will react.  Being aware of potential negative reactions and knowing how to respond to them can help make this process as painless as possible for both of you:

Denial:  An employee may deny that problems exist and/or insist that someone in the company (maybe even you) is conspiring against him or her.  Stay calm.  Be prepared with documentation regarding the employee’s performance or conduct and keep the discussion focused on performance issues.

Threats:  The employee may threaten to go to a lawyer, make a scene or quit.  State that the employee may do whatever he or she chooses, but your responsibility is to uphold your company’s policy.  Explain that you wish to find a solution that will help the company and the employee.

Making Excuses:  The employee may state that his or her mistakes, lateness, or absences are due to the job being too stressful or other issues outside his or her control.  Stay focused on the employee’s job performance.  Don’t let excuses distract you.  Explain to the employee that help is available.

Angry Outbursts:  The employee may yell and scream in an attempt to scare you off and get you to drop the issue.  Don’t react.  Wait calmly until the employee runs out of steam, and then continue where you left off.  Again, focus on performance issues.  If the employee continues to rant, reschedule the meeting.  If the employee appears to be totally out of control or threatens to become violent, your safety is of utmost importance.  Contact your company’s authorities or call the police.

What to Look For

As a supervisor, it is not your job to figure out the cause of the problem.  Your role is to observe employee behavior and determine the effects thereof.

The following performance and behavior problems are common to many substance abusing employees.  However, they do not always indicate that there is a substance abuse problem:


  • Inconsistent work quality
  • Poor concentration
  • Lowered productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Unexplained disappearances
  • Carelessness, mistakes
  • Errors in judgment
  • Needless risk-taking
  • Disregard for Safety
  • Extended lunch periods


  • Frequent financial problems
  • Avoidance of friends/coworkers
  • Blaming others
  • Complaints of problems at home
  • Deterioration in appearance
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Vague excuses of illness

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