As a manager, one of the most challenging issues to confront in the workplace is how to intervene effectively when an employee or colleague displays signs of alcohol misuse in the workplace. So Port of Call has consulted the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) for some expert HR advice.
The CIPD has been setting the benchmark for excellence in people and organisation development for more than 100 years, so it’s fair to say that they know a thing or two about mediating complex issues in the workplace. And they don’t come more intricate, and delicate, than supporting a member of staff who may have an alcohol dependency.
The professional HR body’s ‘Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work: A guide for people management professionals’ provides a wealth of practical and incisive support for HR managers to consider when faced with such a scenario. Here are the broad brushstrokes to remember.
Your organisation should have clear rules on the use of alcohol in relation to the workplace. Policies should apply to all employees and they should be fully consulted before any policy is implemented. Set yourselves a realistic timeframe for this process and try to tailor your policy to the organisational setting, taking into account your employer and employee responsibilities.
“Policies should be designed to encourage employees with drug or alcohol related problems to seek help, and to assure them that they will be treated fairly and confidentially,” say the CIPD. “In enforcing the policy, managers must be trained to recognise the signs of drug or alcohol dependency, and to be competent in basic interview skills.”
Consider applications on an individual basis. Take the type of work the individual will be undertaking, whether people-focused or administrative, into account. If applicable, consider the extent and type of alcohol problem and whether it is current.
“Anyone who has overcome drug or alcohol dependency has not done so easily,” the CIPD state.
It takes courage, determination, effort and commitment. Over time individuals will have addressed their issues, become self-aware and developed many strengths, not least the desire and capacity to change.
“Such individuals can be effective employees, particularly if they receive the support required for all new employees, including induction, appropriate training and ongoing line management support.”
Effective communication about the support available provides reassurance. It is important at the beginning of an initial performance interview to clarify the company’s policy on health support once a problem is declared and to reassure the employee of job security, confidentiality and that help will be offered within certain parameters.
“It can be difficult for people to admit to themselves or others that their substance misuse is out of control,” the CIPD continue. “They need to know that their alcohol or drug problem will be treated as a health issue wherever possible rather than an immediate cause for dismissal or disciplinary action.
“The main aim will normally be to encourage any employee with an alcohol or drug dependency problem to voluntarily seek treatment.”
Managers need to be able to identify performance issues and discuss them with the employee. This should either be in an informal one-to-one setting, return-to-work interview, or during an appraisal. The employee’s performance should then be monitored against targets. The overriding goal is to encourage the employee to acknowledge the problem and seek help.
“The manager should be seen to be firm but also fair, demonstrating qualities of concern and empathy, combined with practical, non-judgemental advice and direction,” according to the CIPD.
“The tone of this discussion between manager and employee is crucial. An aggressive or hectoring attitude by the manager is likely to drive the substance misuser into denial.”
The CIPD issue a note of caution in relation to introducing a policy for testing for drug and alcohol misuse at work. They suggest that organisations that introduce testing regimes that are disproportionate to the company’s inherent health and safety or business risks could foul of the law.
”In addition, research by the CIPD has found that organisations that seek to monitor their employees excessively are unlikely to create a work environment that encourages trust, loyalty and commitment,” say the CIPD.
Employers have legal duties to their employees and third parties in relation to health and safety. If an employee could place colleagues in danger, the employer has a responsibility to remove that danger. This could equate to increased levels of supervision or even suspension or dismissal in extreme instances (preceded by appropriate warnings).
An employer also has a duty of care to the employee themselves, which may require removing them from the working environment, temporarily or permanently, if they are a danger to themselves.
”Employees have an individual legal responsibility in relation to their own health and safety and that of their colleagues,” say the CIPD. “In theory, they could be sued for negligence if they fail to carry out their work with reasonable care due to the influence of drink or drugs and cause damage or injury as a result.”
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