Supervisory Referrals

“Directions is responsive to our supervisory referrals and they keep us updated on the employee’s progress.”    Cindy Mefford, Director of Human Resources, Eastmont Towers

There are two types of “supervisory referrals” to the EAP.  One can be referred to as a supervisory recommended referral.  This could also be referred to as a “friendly referral” to the EAP.  This is appropriate when employee job performance is acceptable but the employee discloses to the supervisor about a personal problem or in the early stages of job performance problems.  This type of referral is a reminder of the resources available to assist the employee with their personal problem. In these cases, it is important for the supervisor to emphasize the complete confidentiality of using the EAP and that it is a free resource paid for by the employer.  The more “friendly referrals” a supervisor makes, the less likely it will be necessary to make a “formal referral”.

A “formal supervisor referral” is appropriate when your employee’s job performance problems continue despite your attempts to correct them in the normal process of supervision.  Your employee may or may not have a personal problem, but the continuing performance problem makes a referral to the EAP advisable.  When making a formal referral, it is important for the supervisor to steer clear of diagnosing a personal problem and to focus on job performance.  The EAP is described to the employee as a resource for helping the employee resolve any issues that may be contributing to the job performance issue.

With a formal supervisory referral, it is important for the supervisor to contact the EAP prior, to provide the EAP with information about the performance issues and the fact that a formal referral is being made.  The supervisor should inform the employee that a release form will be obtained by the EAP but only for the purposes of verifying attendance and to discuss work performance issues only.  The EAP will stress to the employee that any personal issues discussed will not be shared with the supervisor.  This is vital for the employee to feel comfortable sharing their personal information with the EAP counselor.

Referring employees to the EAP before performance problems become severe or your relationship with the employee deteriorates is critical.  The earlier that the employee is referred to the EAP, the better chance of a successful outcome.  Supervisors need to not ignore a developing performance problem, whether it is quality of work, attitude, attendance, or behavior.  Supervisors should not fear that employees will be insulted by a supervisor recommending or referring their employee to the employee assistance program.  The supervisor should look at a referral to the EAP as offering a helpful resource, not as a punishment.

When performance problems are ignored, they don’t just go away.  And they can have a very real effect on the morale of the other employees, including your other employees’ respect for and trust in their supervisor.

“I appreciated the helpful tips my counselor wrote down for me. It is a wonderful resource to have available for our staff!”   Directions EAP Counseling Client

Starting the conversation with an employee about a performance problem is often the most difficult step.  Before the conversation begins, the supervisor should have necessary documentation ready so that they can give as specific information as possible.  Supervisors are encouraged to utilize their Human Resources personnel and their EAP to aide them in these processes.

Employers are encouraged to have the EAP do Supervisory Trainings to teach their supervisors how to make referrals to the EAP and how to best utilize this resource to help their employees.

Some Do’s and Don’t for Managers and Supervisors for meetings with employees:


  • Prepare what you are going to say ahead of time.  Have a plan and stick to it.
  • Have your meeting in private.  Try to arrange for no interruptions.
  • Focus on job performance and conduct, not on suspected personal problems.
  • Present specific documentation.
  • Listen to the employee’s perceptions of the situation(s).  There may be some missing pieces you are not aware of.
  • Use formal but tactful communication.  Be respectful.
  • State your expectations for improved performance as clearly as possible.
  • State a specific time period for the expectations.
  • Arrange for a second meeting to evaluate progress.
  • Maintain appropriate confidentiality
  • Utilize your Employee Assistance Program for coaching as to how to have the meeting, if needed.


  • Try to diagnose the cause of the employee’s job performance problem.
  • Be distracted by tears, anger or other outburst.  Or get sidetracked.
  • Appear to be disrespectful, rude, or judgmental.
  • Back down (get a commitment for improved job performance).
  • Threaten further disciplinary action unless you plan to follow through
  • Procrastinate on addressing the issue until the job performance has seriously deteriorated.
  • Cover up or enable the employee’s job performance problems.
  • Get into an arguing match.  If this happens, reschedule the meeting.

For more information on our Supervisor Training CLICK HERE.