Addiction not only affects one’s personal life, but it can affect their work as well. An employee who is suffering from addiction may cause problems at work, begin performing below standards, and potentially hurt the company as a whole. Addressing addiction in the workplace is essential to running and maintaining a successful business. Employers who view addiction as a health issue and have a plan for addressing and supporting employees who are suffering will be better prepared to deal with addiction if the problem arises. After all, employers have a duty to protect their employee’s safety, health, and welfare. 

Signs of Addiction in the Workplace
Although addiction often carries an image of jobless people, the vast majority of those who are suffering from addiction are employed. Although not all will actually engage in their drug use while at work, struggling with substance abuse at home can still reflect on one’s productivity in the workplace. 

Some warning signs that an employee may have a problem with drugs or alcohol include:

  • Increased absenteeism: These absences may be unexplained, or come with a multitude of questionable excuses as to why he or she cannot come into work.
  • Changes in behavior: Behavioral changes can be anything from mood swings, a surplus of energy, appearing unusually lethargic or tired, and irritability.
  • Diminished productivity: If an employee is suffering from addiction, there may be evident dips in their productivity level as feeding their addiction may become a top priority over work obligations.
  • Changes in hygiene and appearance: An employee may begin to neglect their physical appearance and hygiene. You may notice sores on their face, constricted or dilated pupils, and a lack of personal hygiene.

If any or all of these signs are making you suspect that an employee may be suffering from addiction, it is important to address the issue accordingly in order to protect the business.

Addressing a Suffering Employee
Once you have accessed the risks involved regarding the employee and your business, you can approach the employee in a careful, nonjudgmental manner. If the employee feels as though they are being attacked or disciplined, they will become defensive and less approachable. You want your employee to know that you genuinely want to help them – not judge or condemn them.

If you have a drug and alcohol abuse policy in place, this is an opportunity to make sure the employee is aware of the policy and knowledgable about any support or services you offer. As an employer, you are obliged to steer away from discrimination due to a disability, as stated under the Equality Act. This can be done by offering support services rather than immediately letting the employee go. Although dismissal is an option if the employee becomes unfit to complete their job, many employers are choosing to examine ways to help and support the problem if the employee is willing to get help. 

If your employee takes a leave of absence to seek treatment or begins attending outpatient counseling, it is important to remember that substance abuse recovery is an ongoing process that often does not end with treatment alone. When your employee either returns from treatment or is attending outpatient treatment while still working, it is important to know how to appropriately support your employee throughout their recovery process.

Supporting an Employee’s Recovery
If an employee asks for help with their drug or alcohol problem while at work, the most important thing is to deal with it discreetly and confidentially. If an employee feels as though confiding in you will result in rumors and gossip, they will be less likely to reach out for help. Since substance misuse and addiction are considered to be medical conditions, they should be treated in the same way that other medical issues would be. In addition, there is often an underlying medical condition that led to the development of an addiction in the first place.

Your employee may be attending outpatient drug rehab that could interfere with working hours. One thing you can do to support their recovery is to offer them a flexible schedule that will allow them to work and get treatment. Without access to treatment, an employee’s mental health and addiction may begin to take a serious toll on them, causing their work performance to decline. After all, an important part of the recovery process is achieving a balanced life integrating recovery, self-care, and work. Offering more flexible work hours often helps employees recognize that they are valued and trusted. As a result, work-life morale and efficiency can be boosted. 

Substance Abuse Prevention
Substance abuse prevention begins with creating a recovery-friendly, substance-free workplace. Without education and prevention plans in place, addiction can cause serious issues regarding workflow, employee dynamics, and the health and safety of everyone in the office. These measures not only affect those who suffer from a substance use disorder, but it can create a supportive environment for the entire office. Some steps you can take include:

  1. Implement clear drug policies and substance abuse education
  2. Compile a list of treatment and counseling resources in your area
  3. Proactively address substance misuse in the workplace
  4. Encourage team building activities
  5. Implement drug testing

To prevent further substance abuse issues in the workplace,  it may be ideal to implement a drug testing policy along with these other prevention techniques, as they can help prevent substance abuse in the workplace. 

Addiction can affect any and all walks of life, but knowing how to support somebody who is suffering is crucial for that person’s recovery. Jumping into the decision of letting the employee go rather than aiding in their recovery process and helping them find treatment for their condition can be problematic, as it can discourage other employees from seeking help and can be discriminatory towards those suffering. Therefore, the best way of dealing with addiction in the workplace is deciding on the best way to support an employee who is suffering from addiction. 

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who works with JourneyPure to spread awareness around the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.