Addiction In The Workplace: You Can’t Afford To Turn A Blind Eye

Dealing with addiction in the workplace has always been difficult, but spotting the signs of it was easier when you had all your people in the building. However, in our post-pandemic world where more and more people are working remotely, diagnosing (and treating) addiction is that much harder.

But regardless of where your people are working, workplaces in a variety of industries are commonly detecting cases of addiction. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), over 70% of illicit drug users in America are employed, as are most binge drinkers.

This data points to an alarmingly grave situation as addiction in the workplace can not only cause loss to the company but also pose a danger to their or other employees’ lives. While addiction in the workplace can’t be the sole ground for terminating an employee, appropriately tackling the situation demands more attention than ever before in light of easier access to alcohol and illicit drugs.

Here’s what you can do about addiction in the workplace.

How Addiction In The Workplace Can Affect Employers and Employees

Research suggests that drug or alcohol misuse and addiction cost American companies $81 billion annually. While not every instance of workplace drug or alcohol use is a case of addiction or severe abuse, the employee under the influence can have a negatively impacted work performance nevertheless.

One of the most common side effects of addiction in the workplace is reduced employee productivity or increased absenteeism. Every year, employers over the country spend around $25.5 billion to cover these costs. A Harvard study on workplace addiction says that “out of the 70% of employees that engage in substance use, over 42% report feeling a decrease in productivity.”

Probable employee neglect under the influence of a drug or alcohol can lead to theft of great value, fatal accidents, injuries, and more. For example, an employee operating a piece of machinery or heavy equipment on-site after using drugs or alcohol can be a recipe for disaster. They can cause high-impact loss of hardware, infrastructure, and so on, as well as human injuries. This is supported by research that detected alcohol in 16% of cases of emergency room visits for workplace-related injuries.

How to Deal With Addiction In The Workplace

There are certain conditions under which individuals with alcohol or drug abuse are covered by the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act. Thus, instead of dismissing individuals affected by it, employers can adopt some helpful practices to help them.

As an employer, one of your primary responsibilities is to ensure your employees’ well-being. Therefore, when you come across a qualified employee facing addiction, adopt the right attitude and address their concerns. Reassure them that you are willing to support them in tackling the addiction and dispel their fears of losing their job.

To prevent cases of addiction in the workplace, circulate a notice through your internal communications channels or address your employees yourself about your policies against workplace substance use. You can forbid use of drugs on workplace premises (or during work hours in case of remote work) and state the consequences for which a violator will be liable.

Early intervention is always the best course of action. While every employee must be trained to notice the signs and symptoms of a peer’s substance use in the workplace or when working remotely, top-tier management must be especially aware of it.

As part of the training, employees should also be told to inform about such individuals to their supervisors or managers.

Some signs of addiction in the workplace:

  • Frequent informed or uninformed absenteeism
  • Long and frequent disappearances from their desks, cabins, or workplace
  • Failing deadlines
  • Loss of productivity
  • Reported inattention and confusion
  • Lack of proper hygiene in appearance
  • Erratic interpersonal and professional relationships
  • Increased isolation
  • Physical signs like dilated pupils, slurred speech, fatigue, hyperactivity, etc.

Take Vices Out Of Social Settings

After work happy hours and even virtual “drink and dine” sessions have become common in many organizations.

Even though employers do not encourage alcohol or drug consumption during such events, imagine the plight of an employee who already struggles with alcohol or drug addiction.

Ensure your work culture does not appear to be encouraging the use of alcohol. Rather than a happy hour, get together for coffee or lunch. It’s all about bringing people together to connect; it’s not about the drinks!

Whatever you decide to do, enlist your HR team to help. Your HR professionals are trained to tackle issues like addiction in the workplace so it’s best to allow them to take the lead in such situations.

They can organize in-person training sessions, webinars, one-to-one coaching, and lunch and learn sessions to educate employees about workplace addition and emphasize its impact on both employees and employers.