Alcohol and illicit drug use is a significant issue in the workplace and a growing concern for employers. Contrary to what most people think, the majority of people with a drinking or drugs problem are employed.
The effects of alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace
- Absenteeism and sickness
- Presenteeism (persistently working longer hours than demanded out of fear of losing one’s job)
- Reduced productivity
- Inappropriate behaviour affecting employee morale
- Injuries and accidents, including fatal accidents.
The work performance of an employee with a drinking or drug abuse problem can be affected as a result of poor decision-making and impaired reaction times. Their behaviour may also detrimentally affect relationships with colleagues, damaging team spirit and morale. Productivity often suffers resulting in inferior services or goods, while errors can lead to injuries and accidents. This in turn can affect consumer confidence, and potentially damage a company’s image and customer relations.
Effects on family members
One person’s drinking or drugs problem will also affect a partner or family member, who may in turn suffer significant job performance-related problems. Employers may see a change in behaviour such as a lack of focus at work, increased absenteeism or lateness, and stress or health-related problems.
What legal responsibilities does an employer have?
- In the UK, employers have a general duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees.
- An employer who knowingly allows drug-related activities in the workplace and fails to act, may be breaking the law.
- If an employer knowingly allows an employee under the influence of excess alcohol to continue working, and this places the employee or others at risk, the employer could be prosecuted.
- Specific legislation also applies to the transport industry.
Alcohol in the workplace
Individuals in employment are more likely to drink frequently compared to those who are unemployed. Furthermore, individuals in managerial and professional occupations drink more frequently than those in routine and manual occupations – think of those business lunches and dinners or company events.
Alcohol reduces physical coordination and reaction speeds, even at blood alcohol concentrations lower than the legal drink/drive limit. It also affects thinking, judgement and mood.
Problematic drinking behaviour includes drinking before or during working hours, as well as heavy drinking after work resulting in a hangover during work the next day.
Drugs in the workplace
Like alcohol, drugs can also lead to impaired judgement and concentration. Drugs affect the brain and mind in a variety of ways. Cocaine, for example, can cause the user to initially feel wide awake, alert, clear-headed and confident. However, it can also lead to erratic, reckless and even violent behaviour. Over the long term, the physical and mental side effects to the user of abusing drugs like cocaine or cannabis are severe. By acting promptly, an employer will not only save costs to its own business but may also save an employee’s career, health, and family.
What can employers do to successfully address addiction in the workplace?
- Introduce and follow substance abuse polices in consultation with staff.
- Train managers and supervisors to recognise the signs of alcoholism, or of drug misuse including cocaine addiction symptoms.
- Develop an awareness-raising programme for staff.
- Promptly take action to help employees suspected of having a problem to get help.
- Keep accurate, confidential records of instances of poor performance or other problems
- Interview the worker in private as early as possible in the process
- Concentrate on the instances of poor performance that have been identified
- Ask for the worker’s reasons for poor performance and question whether it could be due to a health problem, without specifically mentioning alcohol or drugs
- If appropriate, discuss your alcohol and drugs policy and the help available inside or outside of your organisation
- Agree future action
- Arrange regular meetings to monitor progress and discuss any further problems if they arise.