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Substance Abuse in the Workplace

By June 21, 2019Food for thought

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

By March 5, 2019Uncategorized
substance abuse in the workplace

The Problem of Substance Abuse in the Workplace  

Substance abuse in the workplace is like an open secret in America, and it’s costing US employers billions and billions of dollars each year. It’s the small and medium businesses (SMBs) that are really affected because they don’t have alcohol and drug intervention programs in place. This is significant since SMBs make up more than 98% of the total businesses in the United States, employing more than 59 million workers. Addressing and preventing substance abuse in the workplace is becoming more talked about as mental health and addiction is becoming more socially accepted.

Professions with High Prevalence of Substance Abuse  

In terms of industries, those that demand long hours from their employees historically have a higher rate of substance abuse.

The National Safety Council listed several occupations with a high prevalence of alcohol abuse. These are:

  1. Nursing

  2. Medicine

  3. Midwifery

  4. Construction

  5. Mining

  6. Transportation

  7. Agriculture

  8. Manufacturing

  9. Armed forces

  10. Firefighting

  11. Emergency sector

  12. Retail services

It’s not to say that other industries are safe, of course. But the long hours and the pressure to perform are additional stressors that push the individual to alcohol or drugs in order to cope.

Reasons Why Employees Resort to Substance Abuse  

There are plenty of reasons for substance abuse in the workplace. Before anything else, it should be noted that in most cases, it’s not the office environment that’s to blame. There’s a strong correlation between traumatic experiences and substance use, and this has nothing to do with your organizational policies.

Nevertheless, the office environment does contribute to substance drug abuse. Here are some of the reasons why your employees may take drugs or alcohol:

  1. Too much stress to perform

  2. The office is too demanding of their time

  3. They always find themselves out of control

  4. The job offers very little satisfaction and motivation

  5. Monotony

  6. Their job requires isolation from their colleagues

  7. Long hours

  8. Erratic shifts

  9. Boredom

  10. Nobody is monitoring their progress

  11. Fatigue

  12. Personal issues

Signs that Your Employees have a Substance Abuse Problem  

The employer now has the responsibility to make sure the office is a drug-free environment. But how do you know that one of your employees is abusing drugs or alcohol? Although it’s not really black and white because there are multiple factors to consider, there are some signs to look for that will tell you that it’s time for that random drug test.

  1. The employee’s job performance suddenly turns for the worse and without warning

  2. The quality of work is consistently poor

  3. The employee is always distracted and lacks the focus to do the job

  4. The employee seems to want to be somewhere else

  5. The employee suddenly disappears and makes excuses for the disappearance

  6. The employee takes more risks than usual, even at the expense of his life or limb

  7. The productivity suffers

  8. The employee is hyper while others already feel the effects of long work shifts

  9. The employee doesn’t care about his safety and also of others

  10. The employee is always absent

  11. The lunch period is always extended

  12. The employee also goes home even before the shift ends

  13. The employee makes constant mistakes

  14. He or she always isolates himself from colleagues

  15. There’s a change in behavior and attitude

  16. He or she is always asking to borrow money from colleagues

  17. Engages in finger-pointing even when he’s at fault

  18. Lashes at colleagues for insignificant reasons

  19. You notice that the employee’s hygiene has deteriorated

  20. The employee is always talking about problems at home

What Can You Do if You Have an Alcohol and Drug Addicted Employee?  

At the outset, organizations need to have their own substance abuse policy because this is a reality that will confront them later down the road. As already stated, a drug dependent worker will have large repercussions on your operations and bottom line.

You should know that most substance abusers are in denial about the extent of their addiction. In that sense, they will be reluctant to accept your help.

However, if you find out that you have an alcohol and drug addicted employee, there are still several options for you:

  1. Give the employee an option—either go to rehab through the company’s EAP or face termination. It should be noted, however, that the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects addicted patients on recovery so better consult a lawyer.

  2. Get it out in the open. The more people know about drug addiction, the more the stigma is reduced. When everybody knows that they won’t be judged for their action, they are more likely to open up.

  3. Train supervisors and HR on how to spot signs of addiction. Better yet, include all employees in the training so they are empowered.

  4. Don’t ignore the problem. This seems obvious but you might be surprised by the number of supervisors and employers who continue to ignore the substance abuse issue even if it slapped them on the face.

Role of Supervisors and Co-Workers in Ensuring Drug-Free Workplace  

In order to ensure a drug-free workplace, everybody has to play a role. The office just can’t wash its hands when one of its employees tests positive for substance use. The good thing is that more and more workplaces in the United States recognized the role they play in light of the continued prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse across different industries. In fact, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have become a staple in the list of benefits offered by different organizations. If your company does not have an EAP, rehabs like Monarch Shores in California and many others work with most insurance companies across the country.

Meanwhile, it’s important that companies should adopt a judgment-free environment. Yes, an employee testing positive for drug use will face sanction but there needs to be a safety net so they know that you don’t hate the person but rather the action. You might think that this is an unnecessary expense, and you are wrong. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. reported that employers lose about $81 billion every year on account of drug use. It’s not just the productivity you should be worried about. It’s also the constant absenteeism, theft, injuries, workers’ compensation costs, and insurance costs.

Preventing Substance Abuse

Employers should strive to creative a work environment that is non-conducive to substance abuse. This can be done by implementing workshops that discuss ways to handle workplace stress through holistic therapies such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, etc. You can also find other fun things to do as a group to build a sense of team and belonging, nobody wants to work at a place that is quiet and not talkative. Find events or other fun things to do as a team like bowling, lunch, movies, etc. You can also do things in the office to break up the monotony of the daily grind.

Lastly, it is important to know that substance abuse is a problem, but usually the drugs or alcohol are used to address a deeper mental health issue, this is commonly known as dual diagnosis. . Make sure that your employees know there are resources available for them to use if they are having issues with stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue. As HR and other leaders of a company it is important that your employees know they can come to you about issues at work, issues at home, substance abuse issues or mental health problems, without the fear of being judged or even fired. Let them know that you are on the same team and will do whatever you can to help. 

Substance Abuse
in the Workplace

There are at least 21 million people in the United States 12 years old and older who misuse drugs or alcohol. It’s not really that much of a stretch to conclude that a good number of employees also have a substance abuse problem. And the numbers support that proposition.

A report by the National Safety Council (NSC) revealed that 7 in 10 employers will be dealing with the consequences of substance abuse among their workers. In the same vein, 6 in 10 employers think that addiction is a condition that justifies termination from work. Nevertheless, 7 in 10 employers also think that substance abuse is a disease that necessitates treatment.

The problem is that they are not getting the help that they need. According to the same survey by the NSC, only about 13% of employees say that they can spot symptoms of substance abuse. That means, 77% need some sort of training in this regard. The problem of substance abuse in the workplace is already costing employers about $74 billion per year. So clearly, ignoring this issue is not sustainable in the long run.

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How Work Can Lead to Substance Abuse

Stress can drive somebody mad, and that’s not a figurative speech either. The working environment is a major contributory factor to substance abuse.

If the following conditions are present in your company, your employees are at risk of turning to alcohol or drugs in order to cope with the demands of the job.

  • The worker is in a high-stressed situation all the time
  • There’s very little control mechanism from the company’s managers
  • The position has high demand (increasing sales quota, for instance)
  • The worker clocks in extensive hours
  • The shifts are irregular
  • The tasks are monotonous and repetitive
  • The job is boring due to long hours of inactivity
  • No clear career path
  • The worker is isolated from the rest of his colleagues by virtue of his task

Lastly, the worker has access to drugs or alcohol.

Signs of an Addicted Employee

There are ways to spot an addicted employee. Mind you, substance abuse is not always the reason for the following behaviors. But it doesn’t take away the fact that they need an intervention immediately before things turn for the worse. Consider the following signs of addiction.

  • The employee is constantly absent without prior permission
  • The employee is always applying for a sick leave
  • You get plenty of excuses for absenteeism, as well as absences from the work site
  • The employee blames everybody for his shortcomings
  • Lost productivity
  • The performance is very erratic. There are days when the employee is very productive, much more than usual
  • Lack of attention
  • Bad decisions and poor judgment, even on very basic tasks
  • The employee has difficulty concentrating on very mundane tasks
  • The lackadaisical approach to work
  • The worker comes in with poor hygiene, as well as the lack of interest in grooming
  • The employee prefers to be by himself
  • A sudden change in behavior
  • Figures in work site accidents more than the norm
  • Dilated pupils and slurred speech
  • Lashes out when confronted
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How to Handle an Addicted Employee

At the outset, the company should be clear about its alcohol and drug abuse policy. All employees should know the repercussions if they violate the company policy. A written rule of the company’s drug-free policy is actually recommended by the US Department of Labor.

A confrontational approach may backfire. It’s important that the HR personnel have background training on how to deal with substance abuse in the workplace. More often than not, addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There may be an underlying cause that pushes that employee to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Ideally, the workplace culture is set up in a way that the employee will feel comfortable enough to open up about their problem. With that said, the company has two choices: endorse the employee for treatment or terminate their services. The question now is: would you face legal repercussions if you fire a worker for addiction?

The four pertinent laws that cover addiction and mental health are:

One of the takeaways is that you can’t just fire somebody without cause. Employee Assistance Programs should be in place to help the worker turn his life around.

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Ways HR Managers Can Prevent Substance Abuse

Fortunately, there are ways how the HR department can ensure a drug-free workplace. Here are just some of them:

  • Make sure the workers know the office is a safe environment where they can be transparent without being judged for their actions.
  • Ensure that they don’t overwork the employees, which can result in stress and push them over the edge.
  • Make sure to talk to each employee as a person, and not just a worker that contributes profits to the company.
  • Check on the workers from time to time. Are they happy with their job? Are they sufficiently challenged? What are their personal goals for themselves within the company?
  • Promote team-building activities so you improve relationships between and among co-workers. This will also help employees see their supervisors in a different light.
  • Ensure that everybody knows about the drug-free policy of the company and the possible consequences of violating that policy.
  • Give workshops and training so everybody knows the risks of drug addiction. Everyone should also know how to stop alcohol or drug abuse.

Drug Abuse Prevention Tips

For employers with no prior experience, having a worker with a substance abuse problem can be overwhelming.

Here are some tips to help you address this nagging issue:

  • Understand substance abuse, its causes, and treatment
  • If a worker shows any distress, make sure to schedule an intervention right away. You just might save a life
  • Know the employee’s background and look for the risk factors. It is important to understand these causes of drug addiction.
  • Conduct random drug tests for marijuana and opioids. It’s better that you know what you are dealing with. This will also discourage workers from abusing substances
  • Make sure you promote a well-balanced workplace. Everybody should feel that they are not mere cogs to the machine.
  • Let them know that you are always open to talk, and not just on matters relating to business but their lives, as well
  • For remote workers, make sure to bring them in periodically so they can bond with their colleagues and let them realize they are not forgotten

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Substance Abuse in the Workplace is Not the End of the World

If you confirm that each of your workers is abusing alcohol and drugs, it’s certainly not the end of the world. The important thing is you need to take emotion out of the equation to avoid making rash decisions you will regret later on. This is usually what happens among HR managers who may feel betrayed when a worker whom they consider a friend has a dark secret.

Fortunately, you are not alone. Countless other corporations and organizations are on the same boat as you. That means there are successful models of how to deal with this problem that you can follow. Some of these tips are already outlined in this article. But of course, every organization is different. The good news is that employees who have undergone rehab treatment end up getting their jobs back.

Lastly, you may have done everything right but it still won’t prevent somebody from getting addicted. Don’t take it personally when that happens. Addiction is a disease and they need professional help.

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