It used to be that when people thought of someone struggling with addiction or alcoholism, they pictured a hobo with patchy clothes drunk under a bridge or blacked out in an alley somewhere. Now, after years of watching our stigmas be proven wrong over and over again, we thankfully have a more realistic image.
These days it is not all the uncommon to imagine that people struggling with substance use disorders do actually have jobs. In fact, most people who struggle with addiction are middle-age, middle-class Americans who have careers or trades. What is called the ‘functioning addict’ often flies under the radar, paying the bills and taking care of their responsibilities, although maybe not as well as they imagine.
So with such a high percentage of the working population struggling with substance use disorder, how should employers be addressing addiction in the workplace? Here are 7 suggestions for the employer who might have to deal with addiction in the workplace.
1. Have a policy and enforce it
The first way for employers to address addiction in the workplace should be a given; have a policy in place for drugs and alcohol.
By establishing the workplace policies and expectations related to drugs and alcohol, having them in writing and explaining them clearly to your staff. You have already set a boundary. As an employer it is up to you to let your staff know what your expectations are and what you will and won’t tolerate.
Then, once the policy is in place, follow through with it. You are able to address substance use as a whole by implementing policies on drugs and alcohol and then committing to those guidelines.
2. Avoid enabling
By establishing a drug and alcohol policy an employer is already setting up the groundwork to help them avoid enabling. Those policies will hold not just your employees accountable, but also they will hold you accountable.
Employers, managers and supervisors should avoid enabling addiction in the workplace with actions like:
- Lending money to an addicted employee
- Covering up for the employee
- Giving the employee’s work to others
- Trying to counsel the employee without a professional
Families and loved ones are always warned about the risks of enabling someone struggling with addiction, the same goes for their bosses. If you have an employee who is struggling do not make excuses for them. It doesn’t serve the company, and it definitely doesn’t serve their best interests either.
3. Schedule a meeting
When an employer is concerned about an employee who may be struggling with drugs or alcohol try not to address it over a phone call or an email. Take a more hands-on approach, it is just good leadership. Schedule a face-to-face meeting.
Supervisors should review signs of abuse with an Employee Assistance Program (EPA) counselor before meeting with the employee.
An employer or supervisor should notify the individual of a place and time to have a meeting for discussing the employee’s performance. The supervisor should plan to hold the meeting in a private setting, so not to spread someone’s personal business around the workplace.
4. Keep it professional
It is very important that when addressing the individual you do your best to be professional without making the conversation too personal. Instead, the employer or supervisor should keep the focus of the meeting on the employee’s job performance. Make it clear that if they do not correct their performance issues they may face discipline or termination.
Even if you have a good relationship, setting boundaries is important when dealing with a work-related issue concerning drugs or alcohol. It is best to not directly address the substance abuse in question, unless they have been obviously impaired on the clock.
Then suggest the employee to the EAP. While an employee cannot be forced to use EAP services, you can strongly encourage them to take those steps.
5. Expect Resistance
Denial is a common reaction for someone confronted with their substance abuse. Remember their resistance isn’t just about their addiction in the workplace; they may still be dealing with that denial within themselves. Accepting that drugs or alcohol are a serious problem is not an easy admission to make for most people.
If the employee is denying their addiction in the workplace and refusing to seek or accept help from EAP, be ready for it. Whoever supervises this employee should continue to document any and all issues with that individual. If necessary, be prepared to follow through with disciplinary action. Stay consistent. It may help them realize how their substance use is impacting their work before it is too late.
If an employee has been intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at work an employer may consider holding an intervention with colleagues, coworkers or other people close to the individual. While this may not always be appropriate, it is still an option.
Most of us are familiar with the concept. With an intervention all people involved confront the addicted employee about their drug or alcohol use, but not to punish or scrutinize. Remember the purpose of an intervention is to encourage them to seek professional help.
If choosing to stage an intervention, remember there are trained professionals who should lead a work-based intervention. An employer or supervisor should not lead the intervention.
For more information on how to stage a work-based intervention contact an EAP counselor.
7. Offer support
Now just because we have suggested being a professional doesn’t mean we are suggesting not being compassionate. You may have a close relationship with a lot of your staff. As a supervisor you may have cultivated a teamwork culture that is result driven and supportive, so support your team members.
One of the best things an employer can do to help employees with substance abuse problems is to offer comprehensive health plans that cover all stages of treatment for substance use disorders. Some of the best healthcare plans for your employees will cover:
- Educating employees on the dangers of abusing alcohol and drugs
- Addiction treatment
If you want the people on your team to get help when they need it, also be willing to show your support when they reach out for it.
Of course if the employee is displaying erratic or disruptive behavior, or intoxicated in the workplace, than an employer will want to contact EAP services to alert them of the situation. After this, depending on the context you may send an employee home or place them on leave or suspension. Whatever you do, document every incident and subsequent action. Some may require drug testing. Make sure to adhere to your own policies.
At the end of the day, the employer should be motivated by the chance to help an employee struggling with addiction in the workplace to get the help they need to get better. If you want your team to be as healthy and productive as possible than you should be willing to support them in any way you can. Be sure to stay accountable and committed to your staff. They make it all possible.