Drugs and alcohol are all too common. Going out after work for a “couple” or having a drink or two at lunch is a slippery slope that usually leads to big workplace problems. So what should you do when you think that one of your employees—maybe one of your better employees, may have been drinking, particularly when the only “evidence” that you have is the smell of alcohol on his breath?
The problem of alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace is prevalent today. According to U.S. Department of Labor, 71% of all illegal drug users are employed. This translates into a problem that nearly every employer must address, and the cost associated with this is staggering. Studies show that those who abuse drugs or alcohol are less likely to come to work, have lower productivity, increased errors, use their medical benefits at a higher level than other employees, and file more workers’ compensation claims.
So what can you do? How should you address this workplace problem? If substance abuse is contributing to an employee’s deteriorating performance, ignoring the situation won’t help. It will likely only get worse and have costly—and possibly disastrous—consequences for everyone unless some action is taken.
Clinical diagnosis of an alcohol or other drug problem is not the job of a manager and should never be done. However, evaluating work performance is. A key part of every manager’s job is to remain alert to changes in an employee’s performance and to work with employees who are having problems so that it improves.
When an employee’s performance begins to deteriorate, for whatever reason, the manager has the right and responsibility to intervene and intervene fast. You do not need to be an expert on alcohol or other drugs to intervene appropriately if substance abuse is suspected since the intervention should always be focused only on the performance problem.
From an organizational strategy, you have many options to combat this problem. 1. Establish and enforce policies prohibiting alcohol and drugs in the workplace. 2. Train all managers in both understanding the signs of substance abuse and in addressing performance based issues. 3. Employees should understand that the organization will not tolerate alcohol or drugs in the workplace, but will provide help for those who truly want and need it. 4. And finally, the use of an employee assistance program to support the organization and problem employees can also prove invaluable in addressing these crises.
The problem of drugs and alcohol in the workplace is not going to go away any time soon. Managers must ensure that your workforce is both productive and safe.
Excerpted from my book, Uncomplicating Management; scheduled for publication on November 1, 2009.
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