Alcoholism in the Workplace

Alcoholism is a disease that affects more than just the alcoholic; friends, family and co-workers often pay the price for the alcoholic’s behavior. For employers, this price tag is more than just an emotional one. In the United States alone, the cost of alcoholism in the workplace ranges from $33 billion to $68 billion a year, thanks to on-the-job injuries, lost productivity, absenteeism and other factors.

For many alcoholics, the workplace may be the catalyst they need for getting help. According to reports by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the workplace can be an effective location for identifying and preventing alcohol-related problems in employees. Here are the signs and steps for recognizing and combating alcoholism in the workplace.

Alcoholism in the Workplace: Signs to Look for

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, employers should not attempt to diagnose the problem, but there are many signs to look for that may indicate an employee has a problem with alcohol.  These signs include:

* Frequent tardiness
* Unexplained or unauthorized absences from work
* Excessive use of sick leave
* Patterns of absence, such as the day after payday or frequent Monday or Friday absences
* Many excuses for missed deadlines or incomplete assignments
* Careless or sloppy work
* Unmet production quotas
* Strained relationships with co-workers
* Belligerent, argumentative or short-tempered behavior, especially in the mornings or after weekends or holidays
* Noticeable financial problems, such as the employee borrowing money from co-workers or frequently asking for paycheck advancements
* The smell of alcohol
* Bloodshot eyes
* Excessive use of mouthwash or breath mints
* Avoidance of supervisory contact, especially after lunch
* Tremors
* Sleeping on duty

Just because an employee exhibits one of these signs, does not mean that he or she is an alcoholic. However, if the employee is exhibiting performance and conduct problems in addition to several of the signs above, then it is time to refer the employee to your company’s HR department or Employee Assistance Program for assessment.

Alcoholism in the Workplace: When to Step In

It can be difficult for employers to know how to handle an employee with an alcohol problem. Do you mind your own business? Or do you step in and offer help? The answer depends on if the employee’s drinking directly affects their performance at work and their relationships with co-workers. If an employee exhibits more than one of the signs mentioned above, then itís time to step in.

The first thing employers, supervisors and co-workers should do is stop enabling the employee. This means holding the employee accountable for his or her actions and not allowing them to continue their self-destructive behavior at work. Examples of this include no longer covering up for the employee, making excuses about the employee’s behavior, lending the employee money, shifting the employee’s work to other employees, or letting them get away with tardiness or absenteeism.

The next step is referring the employee to your HR department or Employee Assistance Program. Here the employee will receive the proper disciplinary actions as well as a proper assessment for determining if they have an alcohol problem. Once a problem has been identified, the employee will receive education and encouragement about seeking alcohol treatment.

The final step may be staging an intervention. One of the main symptoms of alcoholism is denial, so many of the steps mentioned above may prove fruitless for someone with a severe problem. If this is the case, an intervention may be the only way to get through to the individual. In an intervention, the employer can schedule a meeting with the employee where, unbeknownst to the employee, several people significant in his or her life are present, including family, friends, co-workers and supervisors. During the intervention, a trained professional will lead the group in confronting the employee about how his or her drinking has affected their lives and what the consequences will be if the employee continues drinking.

Alcoholism in the Workplace: Types of Help

People who are alcoholics will rarely recover without outside help. If you have an employee with an alcohol problem, there are a number of treatments you can encourage, including Alcoholics Anonymous, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and detox. With your encouragement and support, your employee may be able to get the help he or she so desperately needs.