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Helping an employee with addiction

As an employer or business owner, one of the most delicate and complex situations that can arise is when you suspect one of your staff is struggling with an addiction.

Most employers assume that this is solely the case with drugs and alcohol, but there are a myriad of addictions that can devastate the well-being and safety of your employees as well as have a negative impact on your business and staff morale. Excessive gambling, compulsive disorders, sex addiction and even an unhealthy relationship with food like anorexia and bulimia can influence how someone performs at work.

Drugs and alcohol at the workplace: The signs

It is important for employers not to assume the sole responsibility of tackling the problem of staff addiction. It is a personal problem, so it should be treated as such. But it can make a big difference to the addict if they recognise that their behaviour is having an impact on the business.

The first thing to be aware of is the signs that someone is teetering on addiction. A few tell-tale indicators include:

  • Excessive lateness or sickness
  • Negative change in personality
  • Increased anxiety
  • Loss of interest in physical appearance
  • Asking colleagues to join them in drinking, partying, gambling, etc
  • Borrowing or asking for money excessively
  • Increasing isolation from others
  • Bloodshot eyes, fatigue, smell of alcohol
  • Profound changes in behaviour
  • Becoming unreliable and poor work performance

Alcohol and drugs at work: How to approach the individual

So how does a boss or colleague approach someone about their potential addiction? In this blog, Port of Call explains what to do if you think a colleague is drinking too much.

It’s usually best to try to have a discussion earlier rather than later, to get the situation addressed before the employee does damage to themselves or the business. Many businesses are hesitant to approach a potential addiction problem early on because they fear that the employee will be angry or insulted that the insinuation is they have an addiction. Understandably, the conversation takes place when it is very apparent there is a crisis taking place. If you can and are close to your employee, try to approach early on.

The approach taken should be one of caring for the well-being of the person, but it is perfectly acceptable to present facts on how their behaviour and performance is impacting the business, which is why you are addressing the problem with them. Statements like ‘you failed to show up at a meeting with an important client’ or ‘your performance has dropped off considerably and we are off our productivity targets for the past three months’ are suitable reasons to have a conversation with someone. Take a read of Port of Call’s blog on training and support for intervention in the workplace.

Hopefully the employee will accept that they are struggling with an addiction and agree to get help. As an employer, you are not legally obligated to set them up in a programme. However, you can assist in getting them the help required, depending on what stage of addiction they are in. If you have luckily caught the problem early on, you can suggest support meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and allow them additional time to attend meetings during the day. If the addiction is in advanced stages, it could be helpful to assist in finding a treatment centre that has experience with their particular dependency. Port of Call regularly helps employers before and after interventions to find the right facility that meets the needs of each person.

What if they don’t accept their problem? 

If the employee is not ready to accept that they have a dangerous habit, you can offer information on programmes or counselling to help but you can also tell them that they are at risk of termination if their addiction continues to have a negative impact on the business. Remember, other people are reliant on you as an employer for their livelihood, so it’s important not to risk the stability of others by continuing to allow an addiction to sabotage the business overall. Document the conversation, but also let the employee know that you want to help them.

An addicted employee is one of the most stressful situations a business can face. Port of Call understands this and have been through it many times before. If you need help or advice on how to help someone, get in touch with one of our addiction specialists so we can assist on what the best treatment options can be for your employee. You are not alone.

About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is our admissions team leader. Over the last 5 years he has spoken with more than 10,000 people via our helpline and has organised over 1,000 detox and rehabilitation placements.

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