On-The-Job Relapse Warning Signs

Developed ByTerence T. Gorski
March, 1987 (Revised: March, 1992)


Warning Sign Identification Is A Powerful Recovery Tool.

PHASE I  – RETURN OF DENIAL:  During this phase the relapsing worker has a compulsion to overwork, working harder and longer than co-workers; feels a great deal of loyalty and has a strong need to have his/her work efforts recognized and rewarded.  The relapsing worker is very productive and tries to make profound contributions to the work unit or to the company in general.

This phase includes: (1) a strong assertion that everything is ok; (2) patronizing responses when asked about performance; (3) talking about being indispensable and being better than other employees; and (4) criticizing management decisions.

PHASE 2:  AVOIDANCE AND DEFENSIVE BEHAVIOR:  This phase is marked by a change in work behavior and attitude.  Relapse signs are more visible to the trained supervisor.

This phase includes: (1) compulsive attempts to prove they’re a good worker; (2) disappointment with and blaming of co-workers; (3)  strained relationship with supervisor; (4) avoids boss or associates; (5) rigidity in following job instructions; (6) lectures and labels supervisors/co-workers; (7) dwells on positive aspects of treatment; (8) becomes restless; (9) tears down AA and counseling programs.

PHASE 3:  CRISIS BUILDING:  This phase is includes a progressive degeneration in all areas of work. Job performance problems are developing or returning.

This phase includes: (1) problems with concentration and memory; (2) work requires greater effort; (3) difficulty recalling own mistakes; (4) isolation from co-workers; (5) procrastination; (6) lower quantity and quality of work; (7) mistakes or error in judgment; (8) feels used and unappreciated; (9) morale problems result from behavior of relapsing worker; (10) occasional tardiness; (11) risk taking/safety problems; (12) self-generated stress.

PHASE 4:  IMMOBILIZATION:  Supervisors as well as co-workers are aware of the relapsing worker’s job performance impairments as well as his/her attempts to withdraw from the work unit.

This phase includes: (1) “if only…” thinking develops; (2) daydreaming and “spacing out” becomes noticeable; (3) frequent tardiness.

PHASE 5:  CONFUSION AND OVERREACTION:  Problems generated by the relapsing worker are beginning to affect other departments or customers who begin complaining about the attitude or behavior of the relapsing worker.

This phase includes: (1) overreaction to real or imagined criticism; (2) complaints from customers and co-workers; (3) violation of unwritten rules of the organizational culture.

PHASE 6:  DEPRESSION:  The relapsing worker is impaired in all life areas; physical, emotional and mental impairment is obvious to co-workers who are concerned and frustrated.

This phase includes: (1) apathy and cynicism; (2) leaving work early; (3) absenteeism; (4) laziness and lack of cooperation; (5) physical appearance declining.

PHASE 7:  BEHAVIORAL LOSS OF CONTROL:  Higher levels of management are becoming aware of the impact the relapsing worker is having on the department.  In this situation, the supervisor involved is usually forced to take action.  The supervisor is angry with the relapsing worker as well as the EAP department because this employee is still “not fixed”.

This phase includes: (1) changes in job efficiency; (2) hostile arguments with management; and(3) verbalizes total dissatisfaction with company.

PHASE 8:  RECOGNITION OF LOSS OF CONTROL:  PHASE 8 may be the first time in which the relapsing worker accepts responsibility for personal behavior and signs of remorse are visible for the first time.  Unfortunately, the search for sympathetic ears disrupts and continues to cause resentments.

This phase includes: (1) Explosive Behavior Followed By Shame/Guilt/Remorse; and (2) Self Pity.

PHASE 9:  OPTION REDUCTION:  The relapsing worker usually receives phone calls from the EAP department and refuses to return any of them; stops all contact with helping systems (AA, AA sponsor, counselors or EAP).  Worker may be terminated from EAP program.

This phase includes: (1) major attitude reversal; (2) withdraws from all treatment; (3) behavior with subordinates alternates between apathetic and explosive.

PHASE 10:  ACUTE RELAPSE EPISODES:  A return of all performance problems as well as newly developed problems. Absenteeism and safety problems increase and persist and a hospital admission is common.

This phase includes: (1) Physical Changes; (2) Drug Use (usually prescription); (3) Return to Drinking.

Following PHASE 10 relapsing workers will seek medical or psychiatric attention for relief.  A common complaint is stress, anxiety, or depression. In spite of treatment the problems persist as evidenced by: (1) progressive physical health changes; (2) treatment for physical illness; (3) treatment for psychiatric or nervous conditions; (4) drug use (usually prescription); (5) return to alcohol and/or illegal drug use; (6) absenteeism; (7) hospital admissions; (8) major job performance problems; (9)  serious accidents; (10) increased medical claims; (11) total inability to function on the job.

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