Dealing with alcohol and substance abuse at work - Business Works
BW brief

Dealing with alcohol and substance abuse at work

by Eve Watkins There are many industries that seem almost synonymous with leisurely lunches at the pub and nights out entertaining clients and associates. While socialising in the name of profitability is part and parcel of the process of making deals, conducting media interviews or reaching one's sales quota every month, a problem arises when alcohol and / or drugs become an issue in the workplace.

As the Trade Union Congress notes, substance abuse 'can be a serious workplace issue. Not only can their use lead to serious health problems, but anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be a hazard to themselves or others.' The use of substances not only affects a worker's performance; it can also encourage them to take risks with sometimes dire consequences for themselves and their colleagues. Far from being a problem which is exclusive to those in high-risk professions (construction workers, machinists, medical staff and drivers), it can have long-term effects on a worker's well-being and on the success of a business as a whole, especially is the level of dependency is strong. This inspires us to beg the question of how well companies in the UK are responding to the issue. It is important to be aware of current strategies and to identify where improvement needs to be made.

An inadequate response to the issue of alcohol / drug misuse

Currently, the most often abused substances are legal ones (such as alcohol), though new-found designer drugs such as inhalants and cocaine have also found their way into the workforce. Perhaps the most important survey carried out in the UK to glean how companies are responding to the misuse of alcohol and drugs is a survey undertaken by CIPD, involving over 500 organisations and 1.1 million people. The survey, entitled Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse at Work, found that approximately 40% of employers in the UK have no policy at all on managing the misuse of drugs and / or alcohol at work. The establishment of a clear, succinct policy on the issue is regarded as vital, say the researchers, as is communicating to workers that their dependency problem will be dealt with sympathetically and that they will not automatically be fired or kept back from possible promotion. Interestingly, the survey also found that even in companies where drug / alcohol policies existed, a significant percentage of managers were not adequately trained on how to properly implement these policies. The communication of the policies to the staff is also largely inadequate, with 66% of all companies using the staff handbook (which often remains unread) and 46% of companies using the intranet system, to communicate important rules regarding drug and alcohol misuse. To increase effectiveness, more assertive approaches should be used to communicate vital information, including posters, periodic newsletters, memorandums, etc.

The need for a more supportive approach

One of the most important findings of the survey is that over 60% of employees with alcohol / substance abuse problems who receive support from their company while they are undergoing the process of rehabilitation, are able to remain working in the company afterwards. Currently, only about 25% of companies in the UK support workers who need to take time off for rehabilitation through paid leave; a similar percentage of companies offers unpaid leave. Only 7% of employers pay for treatment of an employee whose alcohol problem is discovered by the company; the same percentage pays for treatment when an employee’s drug problem is discovered.

Prevention is the best approach

The importance of drafting a clear plan of action to deal with the issue of alcohol and substance misuse is especially vital in so far as it covers prevention. Successful prevention involves a multi-pronged approach and includes training managers to be aware of the typical signs and symptoms of abuse [PDF], training staff on how to manage stress, carrying out stress risk assessments, providing staff with access to occupational health services, providing private medical insurance, promoting health programmes in the workplace and finally, providing flexible working conditions so that employees feel that they can carry out their tasks at a healthy pace, without having to put in too much overtime or feeling forced to sacrifice their personal lives.

Another way to prevent the problems caused by alcohol and substance abuse is through testing: more than 50% of companies in safety-critical sectors said they conducted drug / alcohol testing and approximately 18% more of companies planned on introducing this procedure. Thus far, companies which conduct tests and also provide training and support for their employees, have seen a reduction in the prevalence of alcohol and drug misuse. Employees should always be encouraged to seek help if they have a problem in this area; some companies find it useful to grant staff an amnesty period in which they can speak out and receive the support they need, before testing is implemented.

Tweet article
BW on TwitterBW RSS feed