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Addiction affects nearly 10% of the workforce and impacts productivity, engagement, company culture, and efficiency. Do you know how to help an employee suffering from addiction? Guest blogger Cassidy Webb has some ideas. 

Whether it is drug addiction or alcoholism, those who are touched by addiction usually see their work-life affected as well. Addiction can decrease the productivity of an entire company, make co-workers feel uneasy, and create turmoil within the workplace. However, much of this discomfort comes from a lack of knowledge about the alcoholic or addict and a misunderstanding of how to effectively support those who are suffering. 

When dealing with an employee who is suffering from addiction, it’s easy to feel irritated or even feel frustration at your own inability to help. Employers who view addiction as a medical condition and who have a plan for addressing and supporting those who are suffering will be better prepared to handle the issue when it arises. 

How Addiction Can Affect the Work Environment

The effects of substance abuse can be far-reaching, and  workplaces are usually substantially impacted. In fact, approximately 9.5% of full-time employees have had a substance abuse problem.

Even one employee suffering from addiction can affect employee engagement and productivity. In addition, it can threaten employee safety, impair job performance, and decline overall workplace morale. 

Problems that can be caused in the workplace by addiction include: 

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Poor decision making
  • Possible theft
  • Interpersonal trouble with co-workers and supervisors
  • Preoccupation with thinking about substance use at work
  • Accidents due to impairment
  • Stress or irritability placed on co-workers and supervisors
  • Declining work performance
  • Loss of profits

When problems with efficiency and productivity begin to arise, other co-workers may begin to work longer hours or take on more responsibilities to make up for the problems caused by substance abuse. They may also spend more time fixing problems caused by the negligence of a substance abuser. 

Confronting an Employee

Before confronting an employee who is suffering, it is important to understand that addiction touches more than just family and friends – it extends to coworkers as well (as I’ve outlined above). In addition, it is a medical condition that requires extensive treatment. Once both of these concepts are well understood by employers, the issue of addiction in the workplace can be addressed. 

When confronting an employee who is suffering from addiction with the intention of helping them, it is important to respect their privacy and be compassionate. Sharing this person’s information with others is not only disrespectful, but it can violate confidentiality. If the employee feels threatened or judged, they may be less likely to accept the help that is being offered. If the employee feels that there is trust between he or she and the employer, they will feel more comfortable discussing the situation. 

During this conversation, any concerns or decline in productivity should be addressed, as well as addiction resources that can aid the employee. If the employee accepts help, it can be beneficial if the workplace offers flexible hours or medical leave so they can attend either outpatient treatment or inpatient rehab. Sometimes, the individual may deny they have a problem. In this event, it is still important to express your concern and show your support. Then, supervisors should continue to document problems that are occurring and be prepared to discipline the employee if need be. 

Other actions that can be taken include putting drug-free policies in place, implementing random drug testing, considering an intervention, and avoiding enabling the individual. 

Providing Workplace Support

The vast majority of people who abuse substances are employed, so maintaining a workplace that is supportive of recovery is crucial. A valuable asset that workplaces can have is the opportunity to provide resources to help encourage those who are suffering to get sober. 

Companies that care about the health and well-being of their employees and are prepared to offer help when needed make for a happier, more productive work environment. It will also make employees feel more comfortable asking for help when it is needed. After all, appreciation, employee relations, and company values are known to be the top contributors to job satisfaction. Therefore, rather than immediately jumping to termination, being prepared with resources to help those suffering from addiction is imperative to supporting substance abuse recovery in the workplace.

In addition to having resources readily available, offering flexible work schedules for employees to attend therapy, outpatient groups, or 12 step meetings can help aid in their recovery. Regular participation in treatment, therapy, and support groups like NA and AA can greatly improve recovery outcomes and make it easier for employees in early recovery to adapt to their routine work life again.

Keeping this in mind, people who work more than 50 hours each week are more likely to develop a drinking problem due to excess stress. Discouraging employees from working overtime, allowing regular breaks, and allotting vacation time can also help those in recovery to stay sober. 

In the end, maintaining a workplace that supports recovery comes down to support and understanding. Employees that feel valued and have a sense of trust with their employers will be more willing to ask for help and to better themselves. Since addiction is a medical condition, employers should treat it as such and be prepared to help when the issue arises. With addiction being such a widespread problem in the nation, creating a workplace that is conclusive to recovery is an important priority for employers, co-workers, and businesses as a whole. 

About the Author

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.

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