Watch for Signs of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

alcoholism, problem drinkingMany of us enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation.  Healthy guidelines suggest limiting alcohol to one drink a day for women and older adults, and two drinks per day for men.

Alcoholic beverages complement most types of food, and can certainly add to the ambience of social settings.  Those who enjoy these types of drinks feel they help them to relax and enjoy parties and other occasions even more.  However, when individuals feel that they need alcohol to relax or enjoy social situations, or to fall asleep, there may be a problem that goes beyond enjoying a beverage.

Alcohol abuse can cause or worsen many problems, such as personal issues with family or work colleagues, dangerous behavior and poor judgment, and legal problems, and can even lead to harm to the drinker as well as others.  The reasons for abusing alcohol are unique to each individual, but common triggers include death of a loved one, divorce, and loss of a home or job.

In addition to the problems associated with alcohol abuse that affect work performance and relationships, there is a very real and measurable cost to American businesses.  Along with other substance abuse, alcoholism costs billions of dollars in lost productivity and illness each year.  Absenteeism for these drinkers is four to eight times greater than for others.

Spotting an employee who abuses alcohol is not always straightforward, but there are certain signs that may be indicators of this behavior:

  • employee drinking, drinking at work, substance abuse in the workplaceExcessive absenteeism, especially Fridays and Mondays, often with little or no notice
  • Poor work performance with missed deadlines and sloppy, inaccurate and incomplete efforts
  • Issues with coworkers ranging from arguments and confrontations to loner behavior
  • Physical evidence of drinking such as obvious odor, sleeping on the job, and poor balance or staggering

Neither the manager nor Human Resources should try to diagnose any troubled employee’s problem.  But if the signs point to a possible alcohol abuse situation, the best action is to refer the employee to an EAP resource.

HR’s role is to coach the manager on how to approach the employee, and evaluate all alternatives including possible discipline.  A meeting between the manager and employee should be planned, and the manager briefed on how to handle the EAP referral.  The employee must be told that if the offending behavior is not stopped and performance improved, the discipline process will be put in place.  It is vital that each action of all involved parties be thoroughly documented.

Of course, if an employee is suspected to be intoxicated at work, immediate action must be taken.  If the employee is disruptive, he or she should be removed from the workplace.  This should involve HR and the security department, and legal counsel if available.  If possible the employee should be escorted home – never him to drive his own car home.  Call the emergency contact on file, or a taxi service.  If there is an onsite Health Center, the employee can be brought there.  If the employee’s behavior is violent or threatening, or alcoholic, drinking silhouettecausing a hazardous situation to persons or property, the police should be called as well.  Again, be sure that all actions are documented.

As part of your ongoing EAP training and awareness efforts, host a seminar for managers and supervisors on spotting substance abuse in the workplace and your institution’s policies and procedures.  The key to handling these situations safely and professionally is preparation and educating all who may become involved.

This entry was posted in EAP, Health and Wellness, Human Resources/Management, Workplace and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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