According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 70% of the 14.8 million Americans who abuse drugs are employed, and 24% of workers admit to drinking during the day at least once in the past year.
These numbers reflect serious consequences for the economy. In 2004, a report issued by the Surgeon General found that alcohol abuse among employees cost companies $25 billion, with other drugs adding another $11 billion. Aside from these financial burdens, the injuries, interpersonal conflict, and low morale stemming from drug abuse can make work a difficult place to be.
Prevention is the best way to address addiction, and if your workplace hasn’t implemented a drug policy, peer and web-based drug prevention programs, drug testing programs, or resources through an employee assistance program (EAP), management should strongly consider making those initiatives a priority. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services website outlines a number of effective plans and solutions in their Drug Free Workplace Toolkit. But what if some of your employees are already struggling?
Before meeting with an individual employee, make sure the entire staff is aware of resources available to them, such as an EAP with counselors, and reassure them that their communications will be kept confidential. Share this information often so that no one feels singled out and employees who feel at risk (there may be some you’re not aware of) feel comfortable seeking help.
If you’re concerned that one of your employees may be struggling with addiction, it’s important that you carefully document all of your observations, then set up a meeting. Use sensitivity, not only for your employee’s sake, but for your company’s. (Unfounded accusations of substance abuse could be the basis for legal action.) By collecting evidence of absenteeism, tardiness, or decreased work performance, you will be able to focus on employee performance. That opens the door for your employee to talk about issues that may be causing difficulties in the office, including addiction. But leave that admission in their court. At this point, your only responsibility is to make them aware of problems with their performance and your expectations for improvement. If you have an EAP, refer your employee there, but do not require them to go.
In some cases, an employee’s addiction may show up in more obvious ways than poor work performance. When an employee comes to work clearly intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, it may be time to plan an intervention, in which colleagues confront the employee and encourage them to seek professional help. An intervention should be led by a trained professional; if you have an EAP, contact a counselor for help with the process.
If at any time an employee’s behavior is erratic, disruptive, or otherwise out of control because of substance abuse, restrict their job duties, especially if driving or heavy equipment is involved. Refer the employee to your company’s EAP or health unit, or, if necessary, arrange for them to get a safe ride home. You job is to protect not only the employee, but their coworkers.
Employees struggling with addiction can cost their employers time, money, and a lot of frustration. You should never feel compelled to ignore or enable behavior for the sake of being “nice.” You, your company, and your employees deserve more. The most compassionate thing you can do, not only for your employee but for their loved ones and coworkers, is to take action to help, even when the process feels uncomfortable. Empathy can also take the form of comprehensive health plans and employee assistance programs that encourage education, counseling, and treatment. By keeping the big picture of compassion in mind, you will go beyond improving your workplace. You may save a life.
Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County offers training for employers and teams to understand and work with individuals that struggle with addiction. Contact us to assist with your organization's training, and for more information about drug and alcohol abuse, check out the resources on our site.