Over 10 million full-time employees are known to have substance abuse disorders. They cost businesses billions each year. Management understanding and being able to address the issue professionally is one way to help cut down on cost and any loss in productivity.
It is also an excellent way to create awareness and promote acceptance of medical treatment for substance abuse disorders.
Due to stigma often associated with addiction, feelings of shame or fear can stop people from getting the help that they need.
Having a management team make it clear that they value the health and safety of the people under their supervision can help remove that harmful stigma.
Why Every Company Should Have a Plan
Every company should have policies and plans in place for helping an employee with addiction issues. There are legal considerations when employees are known to have some form of substance abuse disorder while on the job.
Having a plan in place to provide proper resources and ensure the safety of all individuals in the workplace is necessary and required for some job positions.
Being able to fall back on a prepared plan will also keep responses consistent between departments.
Substance abuse disorder is characterised by excessive use of an addictive substance (e.g., prescription medication, street drugs, alcohol, etc.) which causes harm to a person’s social or personal wellbeing.
It is accompanied by physical and mental changes which often become evident in the workplace through abrupt and unexplained absences, lower standards of quality work, accidents, and other signs.
Some common substances that are routinely abused include the following:
Ensure Policies are In Place
Companies must have clear policies regarding drug abuse in the workplace and any repercussions, resources, and detailed expectations for both employees and their supervisors. This will ensure that any audits that take place will show that the company has been responsible for the needs of its employees.
Understanding Employee Rights
Every employee has certain rights to privacy and protection against unjust firings or being mistreated for having a medical condition which includes substance abuse disorder.
Specific rights will be determined by your company policies, local regulations, industry standards, and health standards. You will want to coordinate with your human resource and management team to make sure that nothing is overlooked.
How to Identify Addiction in Employees
Management should be trained to identify signs of addiction so that any instance of it can be dealt with adequately following company guidelines. This knowledge will also help with the screening process during interviews.
There are specific signs that point towards substance abuse. It should be noted that they can often also apply to other mental or physical disorders.
Assuming that someone exhibiting them is addicted to an illegal substance is irresponsible. These should be used in addition to other facts to determine if someone may be under the influence while at work.
Common Signs of Addiction
This is not an exhaustive list:
- Being unusually late to work or an abrupt increase in calling off
- Loss of focus and reliability
- Missed deadlines
- Unusual mood swings
- Making risky decisions
- Being late returning from breaks
- Missing appointments
- Missing meetings
- Lack of hygiene or unusually unkempt appearance
- Routinely bloodshot eyes
- Constant use of mints, mouthwash, or gum
- Avoidance of coworkers and managers after break times
- Shaking or body tremors
- Excessive exhaustion or falling asleep while on the clock
- Change in personality
Steps For Approaching an Employee With Addiction Issues
It can be awkward to know that you need to have a difficult conversation with someone under your supervision.
No one likes to point out when someone else is failing, but it is best done as soon as you are prepared to decrease the risk of anyone being accidentally injured or otherwise negatively affected.
You will want to have facts and records to back up the claim that you will make, and you will need to loop in the entire management team to ensure the situation is handled correctly.
You are already going through the first logical step in addressing any current or potential issues in your workplace regarding employees with addiction issues.
Before any conversation, you want to make sure you are educated on the following topics before approaching your employees:
- Employee rights
- Health and safety laws in your area
- Company policies and clearly stated expectations
- Resources for Addiction Services
Have Accurate and Clear Records
In case of any audits, you want to have recordings of all proof and actions taken regarding any claims of substance abuse by an employee. Records are also helpful if there are any kind of legal actions in the future by any party surrounding the incident.
Besides, it is easier to have an honest, open discussion if emotions and personal opinions are kept out of the conversation. Being able to fall back on undeniable and objective facts makes this easier.
A few points you can use are instances of being late, any actual evidence they are taking a substance at work, and decreased productivity or erratic behaviour.
Make Sure the Relevant Departments are Involved
Loop in your entire management team and human resources to ensure that the situation is handled professionally by putting accountability on how you react and approach the employee.
They may wish to have a representative from inside or outside the company attend the meeting with them, and this should be encouraged. You are trying to provide stern support and not condemnation.
Choose Your Words Carefully and Present Only Facts
If your company is genuinely intent on countering the stigma of substance abuse disorder, then it is best to avoid certain loaded words.
A few examples are “addiction” and “addict”. Ideally, you will avoid labelling the issue entirely and instead address specific actions and concerns.
You want to make it clear that they are being held responsible for what they have done without shaming them in the process.
Know Your Company Policies and Your Employees Rights
Your company has put money and time into training each employee, and it is usually more cost-effective at the end of the day to be patient and give them time off to go through medical treatment than to post a job, interview potential hires, train someone new, and get them up to speed.
Also, there are employee rights and company policies that must be adhered to, and these usually have allowances for employees with medical problems.
Plan and Assemble Information For the Meeting
Make sure you have everything you want to say planned out in advance and print out or get the information for useful resources. Understand that they may not be receptive to the idea of getting help and may lash out or react aggressively or fearfully when confronted with the facts of their addiction.
The more you plan out the meeting, the less likely that it will devolve into a negative experience.
There may be a compulsion to blame them for any actions that might have led to dangerous or frustrating activities at work, but that will not benefit anyone. Keeping your words and tone, both professional and neutral, is ideal.
They may not have talked to anyone else in their life about their substance abuse issues so being patient, listening to them, and presenting only the facts will be helpful.
Being willing to listen can be the difference between a volatile confrontation and an amicable meeting that ends with them genuinely seeking help.
Provide Resources and Information For Next Steps
You will have done the research and created a list of options for the employee to choose from in regards to their future. Resources can include company or community healthcare services.
A reassurance that the company is going to treat them fairly and gently encouraging them to seek out specialised medical assistance will show them that you have their genuine wellbeing in mind.
Keep Yourself Outside Their Issues
While it is in human nature to want to help people that you care about, it would be more helpful for you to remain a supportive figure from a distance.
There is a professional relationship between yourself and the employee that can quickly morph into you feeling responsible for aspects of their recovery when it is not your place.
You can provide them with a stable, understanding environment at work without turning their problems into your own or feeling too deeply invested in their continued recovery.
Ways to Accommodate for Treatment and Recovery
While creating a plan for addressing substance abuse, it is essential to make sure that any policies will be supported by additional expectations, including those related to the following:
- Disciplinary action
- Sickness allowances
- Employee welfare
When all of those areas are in agreement for how addiction issues should be handled by management, then it is easier to make sure that affected employees are aware of their options for getting help and continuing recovery.
During the initial conversation, it is helpful to have tangible steps laid out for how they can get help and how the company will accommodate them should they choose to do so promptly.
Expectations moving forward should also be clearly expressed so that they are aware that if these are not met their continued employment may be in jeopardy.
Policies should have accommodations for therapy and medical needs. This can mean unpaid time off to attend rehabilitation or adjusting work hours to make it possible for them to attend health care appointments during their recovery.
Adding policies that encourage anyone needing it to get medical treatment might make an employee comfortable enough to get the help.