Recognizing Signs of Substance Abuse in Your Workplace
Despite the stereotype of the unemployed addict, the vast majority of people with substance abuse problems have full-time jobs. Choosing to drink or get high on the job can have severe consequences for every employee, not only the user. How can you spot if a colleague is drinking or using drugs at work, and what should you do if you recognize any warning signs of substance abuse in your workplace?
How to Identify Substance Abuse in Your Workplace
If you manage or work closely with someone, you might notice some distinct changes in their behavior that could signal they’re coming to work drunk or high, or that they’re abusing substances during the workday.
- Secretive behavior: Employees with substance abuse problems might disappear for long periods without telling anyone where they’re going. Or, they could say they’re going to lunch or a doctor’s appointment, but instead use that time to go to a bar or meet their drug dealer.
- Tardiness: A lack of punctuality is another sign of a possible drug or alcohol problem. People who stay up late drinking or getting high might come to work late because they need extra time to sleep off a hangover.
- Mood swings: Someone who is usually calm and level-headed might suddenly become irrationally angry or irritable under the influence of drugs. Marked behavioral changes that aren’t due to illness or stress may stem from substance abuse.
- Poor appearance: Drug and alcohol abuse might cause someone to neglect their hygiene or professional appearance.
- Absenteeism: People with long-term substance abuse problems often have compromised immune systems, which could make them need to call in sick more often.
- Poor job performance: On-the-job drinking and drug use can compromise the quality of someone’s work. If an employee starts missing deadlines or routinely turning in a subpar effort, it could be because their judgment is too clouded to notice. They might also be neglecting their professional goals because drinking or drug use has become their top priority.
What Can Employers Do to Prevent Workplace Substance Abuse?
Most workplaces have implied anti-drug policies in place, and some even conduct random drug screenings. However, if your workplace doesn’t already have a written policy prohibiting on-the-job substance use, consider implementing one. Remember to specify the policy’s purpose, your expectations for your employees and the consequences of workplace substance abuse, including termination.
By stating each of these three things explicitly, companies provide their employees with unambiguous guidelines about drug use in the workplace. If workers understand the reason behind the policy and what will happen if they break the rules, they’ll know that being high or drunk during the workday could cost them their job.
If you suspect a colleague is under the influence at work, or if someone you directly supervise comes to you asking for help with a drug or alcohol problem, the first step is to document the issue. Next, ensure your human resources department is aware of the problem. Your HR team can meet privately with the employee to explain any assistance programs available through company-sponsored health insurance, and how to use the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act to protect their job while they seek qualified addiction treatment.
Maintaining a Drug-Free Workplace
Hiring a friendly, approachable and supportive leadership team who take time to make each employee feel valued can go a long way toward creating a corporate culture that promotes a substance-free environment. Stress is almost always a factor in any workplace, but you can take steps to reduce its impact by giving people the time, space and resources they need to do their job.
The American work ethic prioritizes a constant push to get ahead. However, the outdated notion that hard work is its own reward only causes burnout and chronic stress. That’s why another essential thing you can do to prevent workplace substance abuse is to encourage anyone dealing with mental health challenges to get help. For example, if your resources allow, let everyone on staff take a monthly mental health day to focus on their self-care. Ensure this day doesn’t count as part of any personal time off they’ve earned. People who are struggling need compassion and grace, not a slap on the wrist for not being productive enough.
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