The University Record, May 23, 1994

Alcohol abuse specialist helps supervisors help employees

By Deborah GIlbert
News and Information Services

“I don’t know what to make of it. She’s a really good employee ... when she’s here.”

Supervisors who find themselves puzzling in a similar fashion over an employee’s chronic absenteeism should consider whether alcoholism is the cause.

“But you have to be careful,” says Nora Gessert, a new health educator specializing in alcohol abuse. “It may be that the employee is wrestling with a one-time life crisis and is drinking to ease the pain—a different situation from chronic, lifetime abuse. Intervention may be the answer in both cases,” she adds, “but all the facts have to be explored carefully before you plan how to respond. There is no blanket solution that covers all individuals.”

Gessert was appointed this spring to a joint position with the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP) and the University’s Initiative on Alcohol and Other Drugs. She will offer workshops for supervisors on identifying alcohol problems and providing constructive help to employees. She also will consult with units across campus on developing and implementing policies on alcohol and other drugs, as called for in the University’s 1991 Task Force Report. Prior to joining the University, Gessert developed alcohol abuse prevention, intervention and follow-up care programs at Wayne State University, Detroit Riverview Hospital and, most recently, at Washtenaw Community College.

“My primary message in the supervisor workshops is that supervisors need to make sure employees know that they are investigating the problem and that they are concerned.

“A supervisor must collect concrete, objective information—no hearsay—and the focus must be on problems that manifest themselves at work. If the employee is drinking too much at home but still functioning well at work, you don’t have much leverage,” she says. Once a problem is identified, supervisors need to have an action plan that includes follow-up, she adds.

As a consultant on alcohol policies, Gessert will work with unit alcohol policy committees to help them meet basic University alcohol policy requirements, “and also to tailor their educational efforts so that they are applicable to the role, function and culture of the unit,” she says.

“It is interesting to see how different departments and units are focusing on different issues and finding different solutions,” she says. “For instance, the School of Dentistry decided that since alcohol is served at certain functions, they wanted to investigate how to serve it appropriately. Finally they included a version of the state’s Techniques of Alcohol Management training program for bartenders, more commonly known as TAM-Training, in their policy.

“The Medical Center, on the other hand, decided to ban alcohol at Medical Center events. No one policy or training program seems to fit all,” she says.

Gessert’s office is in the Initiative’s suite on the second floor, 715 North University. To enroll in a supervisor’s workshop or obtain help with your unit’s alcohol policy, call her at 998-6750.