Your Office Coach | Managers must understand that their role is to discuss job performance, not substance abuse.

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Q: Our human resources director has been using prescription painkillers for a very long time. “Lisa” often appears foggy and dazed and occasionally falls asleep at her computer. She readily admits to taking this medication at work, so she’s not trying to hide anything. Since Lisa and I report to the same vice president, I have previously made him aware of this issue. However, he seems reluctant to address it. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Your vice president either fails to grasp the seriousness of the problem or isn’t sure what to do about it. Under normal circumstances, you could seek guidance from human resources, but that option is obviously off the table. Therefore, the only alternative is to have a more emphatic talk with your hesitant boss.

To emphasize the gravity of the situation, ask some other concerned managers to join you in meeting with him. Going as a group will emphasize the widespread impact of Lisa’s impairment, thereby making it harder to ignore. Since legal aspects will need to be considered, be sure to include an attorney in this conversation.

Prepare for the discussion by creating a detailed summary of the business risks posed by a dysfunctional HR department. Even if Lisa has a competent staff, a stupefied department head can’t provide effective leadership or make sound decisions, so your boss needs to recognize the potential liabilities.

Once you have the vice president’s attention, give him contact information for some qualified professional resources. When addressing drug and alcohol issues, managers should always consult the experts before taking action. Employee assistance programs and community mental health centers are usually good sources of help.

When talking with employees like Lisa, managers must understand that their role is to discuss job performance, not substance abuse. They should focus on work behavior and avoid making assumptions or accusations. Suggesting resources can sometimes be appropriate, but making a diagnosis is not. Fortunately, when people realize their job may be at risk, they are often motivated to confront the underlying problem.

Q: Although I am personally well-regarded, I don’t believe this company really values my profession. For that reason, I have begun looking for another job. I recently received an unexpected promotion, but I can’t decide whether to mention it during interviews. What do you think?

A: I see no reason to avoid sharing this good news with potential employers. In fact, it may help to alleviate concerns about why you’re seeking employment elsewhere. Since interviewers almost always ask about an applicant’s reason for leaving, you can easily include the promotion in your response.

For example: “My current company has actually been very good to me. In fact, I recently received a promotion. However, I was interested in this position because of the strong focus on market research.”

The point is that you are not trying to escape a bad situation, but are attracted by the job they have available. Employers always prefer candidates who seem excited about working for them.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at