Apr 19

Managing addiction in the workplace

Addiction occurs when an individual feels compelled to take, use or do something that interferes with their quality of life or causes harm to themselves or those around them. Addiction is often considered a disease because it fundamentally affects the way the brain works and how it deals with reward and self-control.   

The covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the cost of living crisis has resulted in a higher number of people than ever struggling with addiction. Statistics show that there are around 600,000 alcohol dependent people in the UK, most of whom are not accessing any form of treatment. Studies conducted by the UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England) also estimated that that almost a quarter of a million people in the UK are struggling with some form of gambling addiction. But what, if anything, can employers do to help?

Employers have a legal duty to look after the health and wellbeing of their employees. But what can you do if you suspect someone in your business is struggling with addiction issues? The first thing to consider is educating line managers to spot the signs of potential problems in this area. It’s also important to create a supportive culture where employees who are struggling with such issues feel they can come forward and ask for help.

Spotting the signs

Those suffering with addiction are typically a very secretive and notoriously become very skilled at hiding the problem. It’s therefore essential that line managers are trained to spot the signs and offer support where required. The signs of addiction are likely to vary from person to person but could include:

  • Frequent absenteeism
  • Difficulties with timekeeping or showing up late for meetings
  • Failure to turn on camera in online meetings
  • Smelling of alcohol
  • Poor decision making
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Emotional or aggressive outbursts
  • Financial problems
  • Tremors
  • Bloodshot eyes

Seeking support

Despite the stereotypes, the vast majority of people struggling with addictions are in employment. Many employees struggling with issues of this nature are fearful of coming forward for fear that their employer may react negatively. Creating an open and supportive culture where employees feel they can come forward is key. It’s also essential that line managers are skilled in signposting to specialist help where necessary and will support the employee through any treatment or intervention required. Addiction should be treated the same way as any other medical or mental health issue.

As an employer, you must also ensure that your culture is not part of the problem. If your organisation has a culture of entertaining clients with large amounts of alcohol consumed, this could be a contributing factor. Also, in many cases addiction issues arise as a result of work-related stress so regularly reviewing workloads to ensure they are manageable is also a good idea.

If an employee in your organisation discloses an issue of this nature, handling all conversations with empathy will go a long way towards encouraging them to open up and be honest about the extent of the problem. The first port of call should always be to seek an appointment with their GP. A GP will be able to advise them on treatment options and refer them for more specialist support. An Employee Assistance programme (EAP) can also be another valuable source of support if your organisation has one as many offer counselling and support services. It may be also beneficial to signpost them to charity organisations who can help, can support with addictions relating to drugs or alcohol and can support with issues around gambling addiction. Once the employee has begun a journey towards recovery, allowing them the flexibility to attend treatment or therapy will be a helpful way to demonstrate your support. With the right support, employees suffering issues around addiction can find recovery and go on to become a valuable asset to your organisation.

If your organisation would like some help to formulate a policy in this area or you need advice on how to support an individual employee who you know or suspect may be struggling with issues of this nature, why not give the HR Overload team a call to see how we can help.

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