Saturday, March 1, 2008

More on Mandatory Referrals

Did you know that Mandatory Referrals to EAPs are illegal in Australia according to a representative from the largest EAP in Australia? I am waiting to hear back more from this person soon so I can pass along the information. It could very useful in this discussion.

Is it true that there may really be no such thing as a "mandatory referral"? They are called that, but it is often a misnomer in many cases. There is a difference between "a referral to the EAP is mandatory" and "it is mandatory to go to the EAP", correct? The former is what the these types of referrals are usually all about.

Actually, many of us believe that mandatory referrals are an unethical and problematic practice in EAP programming. Where they exist, they are often not part of EAP policy per se. Instead, they are part of the sponsoring/customer's policy on dealing with specific matters of performance and behavior. They are requirements for management and how employees will be treated in the face of egregious violations of specific work rules.

For example, a mandatory referral mean that the supervisor must prepare to terminate an employee for cause, but at the same time, offer the employee a one-time opportunity to be accommodated for the existence of a personal problem if the employee wishes to accept it. That opportunity comes in the form of a traditional, formal, supervisor referral to the EAP the acceptance of which will be the only thing that can prevent termination.

This is a win-win. The employee keeps their job for now, gets the red carpet treatment, is guaranteed that their promotional and job security will not be jeopardized simply because they go for help, and that the employee will be supported, and accommodated later as appropriate. If they don't accept this support and accomodation, the alternative is the opposite--the employee picks up their last pay check and is fired for the infraction. This is tough love. Most employees choose an EAP referral and cooperation with its recommendations. This is a compassionate move to help any employee with a serious personal problem confounded by denial.

Unfortunately these referrals are frequently not communicated much tact . They are made to sound harsh and punitive. More employees would enter treatment and be salvaged if they were. What a mandatory referrals really is--although it gets lost in the translation--is a supervisor referral in the face of termination for cause with the employee being given the opportunity to avoid termination, if he or she decides it would be a good thing to find out if a personal problem contributes performance issues. This is also called performance-based intervention.

Many EAPs reject mandatory terminology entirely. That is why I said they remain controversial in the flash <--click to see again. The flash, which is part of the EAP Refresher Training for Supervisors series #1 (there are three refresher courses) only received a two comments so far.

Personally, I think using the term mandatory referrals in promotional literature and employee orientations is very damaging to to EAPs. They are square pegs being shoved in the round holes of the core technology and EAPs should help organizations "re-word them" so DOT regulations requiring referral to the EAP for a positive drug test are upheld, but at the same time different language is employed in the process that does not undermine EAP's value and destroy the program's ability to attract employees, especially self-referrals.

Unfortunately, many EAPs unfamiliar with EAP history, and EAP theory (as I like to call it), or client self-determination principles in the helping professions, incorporate 'mandatory referrals' in their policies and procedures only because management has said "make this happen" and EAPs comply to please the customer, rather than say, "Hey, wait a minute, let's not have you shoot the EAP (and your investment in this loss prevention program) in the foot with this language." Let's re-word this to help you, the EAP, and the employee. Let's not align the EAP with language that makes this process appear punitive.

Tough love must communicated more with the love than the "tough" part. That's what makes it work. Indeed, this is why EAPs have been so successful where they have been thoughtfully established to help troubled employees.