KeepingTheWorkplaceSafe

Keeping the Workplace Safe

The negative impact of substance abuse and its cost to business

It doesn’t matter what business you are in or where in the world your business resides, all companies are impacted negatively by the effects of substance abuse.   It’s a societal problem that cannot be escaped and will always exist. Some companies consider this a cost of business and others understand that addressing the problem is good business.

The cost to business

Employees with substance addictions are very expensive employees, here are some facts to help put things in perspective. 13.6 percent of heavy alcohol drinkers will miss one or more days per month compared to 8.4 percent of the non-drinking population who will miss one or more days of work per month. 16.9 percent of marijuana smokers will miss one or more days per month compared to 8.3 percent of the non-smoking population who will miss one or more days per month.  The dollar amounts are different for each country, and for the United States, absenteeism and lost productivity costs are estimated at over 120 billion per year.

Employees with light and moderate alcohol use cause 60 percent of alcohol-related absenteeism, tardiness, and poor work quality. Studies have shown that substance-abusing employees function at about two thirds of their capability and that employees who use drugs are three times more likely to be late for work.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Drugs in the Workplace: what an employer needs to know.  

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Acknowledging the problem

HR professionals know this problem is present.

HR professionals can establish policy but we have to rely on the partnership of the managers, supervisors, and other leaders in the organisation to deal effectively and compassionately with the employees who abuse drugs or alcohol and need help.

We know the dangers that exist to other employees, to customers, and to the general public; we understand the importance of keeping the workplace safe and functioning effectively. HR professionals can establish policy but we have to rely on the partnership of the managers, supervisors, and other leaders in the organisation to deal effectively and compassionately with the employees who abuse drugs or alcohol and need help.

Many HR professionals report that the main impediments to the problem are the managers, supervisors, and leads in the organisation that work with these employees and have knowledge that they are under the influence. We have to acknowledge that this is a very uncomfortable conflict situation for any manager to face.

Nobody wants to confront an employee about being under the influence and many ignore the situation, rationalise the situation, and take no action.   They choose to not take action because they think they are helping the employee and don’t want to compound any problems the employee may have by making things more difficult for them at work. Many don’t know how to have the conversation and have had no training related to these matters.

I once inherited an employee with a drinking problem and it was horrible. It was the elephant in the room and nobody would name the problem. This employee had worked at the company for years, she was an excellent employee (when she wasn’t drinking), and she was a good person.

Every manager before me ignored the situation and complained about it, but did nothing. This employee held the department hostage and the amount of time that was spent working around her was unbelievable. There were ten people in the department and we all wasted hours a week due to the employee not being at work or not delivering work product in a timely manner.

After a couple of weeks experiencing this pattern of behaviour, I talked to her and told her that if she didn’t get help, I would have to let her go. She got help, I supported her in her recovery but the story didn’t end well. She didn’t follow the guidelines for her recovery, she relapsed, and eventually I had to let her go.

It was a hard decision and I didn’t feel good about it, but I also didn’t feel good about the fact the nine other employees in the department were negatively impacted by her addiction.

It was the right decision for the department and the company.

Compassion is the key to helping employees find the road to recovery, education is also important and understanding that the disease can be treated effectively is also important.

Shall we do nothing?

Managers and supervisors need to realise that, by doing nothing, they are not helping the employee or the company. Most people who suffer from substance addiction want to stop but can’t, their brains are wired differently. One drink is too many and 100 drinks are not enough – they cannot stop and they need help.

Unfortunately the stigma of having a substance abuse problem prevents many from admitting their addiction and seeking help. Compassion is the key to helping employees find the road to recovery, education is also important and understanding that the disease can be treated effectively is also important. At the end of the day, know it is their journey, and no one else is responsible for the choices they make.

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Injection image courtesy Ruud de [email protected]





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