Alcohol misuse is a growing issue within the workplace. Alcoholism affects people in all social and economic situations, and its effects can be found in both white- and blue-collar jobs. Though the common stereotype is that alcoholics are homeless and unemployed, it has been estimated that around 75% of alcoholics are employed full-time.
Some workplace studies suggest that alcohol has contributed, and may even have been the cause of, as much as 25% of all workplace accidents. In addition, lost productivity and absenteeism due to alcohol abuse has been estimated to cost employers billions of dollars.
One aspect of alcoholism is its ability to affect people close to the alcoholic. After family members, work colleagues are the next most common people to be affected by an alcoholic and their drinking. Often, the people that work with the alcoholic attempt to cover for them, which makes working with them even more difficult, and simply delays the consequences for the alcoholic.
From the perspective of the authorities and governmental agencies, a person’s decision to intake alcoholic beverages is a private matter. When their drinking begins to have an effect on work performance, and begins to potentially endanger those around the alcoholic, the employer should be concerned, and has a right to become involved.
If you are the employer or supervisor of a person with an alcohol problem, it is important to stay in that role when dealing with that person. It is not your job to diagnose alcoholism or any other disease. Stick with supervising your employee, and making judgement only as to their ability to carry out their job duties.
The following signs may indicate that a person has an alcohol-related problem:
- An alcohol smell
- An unsteady walk
- Red, or bloodshot, eyes
- Sleeping while on the job
- Excessive use of breath mints or mouthwash
- Frequent lateness
- Use of sick leave that is excessive
- Absences from work that are unauthorized, or unplanned
- Sloppy or careless work, and missed deadlines
- Strained relationships with co-workers
- Foul-tempered and argumentative, especially in the morning
If, as the employer, you determine that alcohol is likely a problem with your employee, confront them with your findings, and provide them with information about any company benefits that can help them deal with their problem. Be prepared for the employee to become angry, or deny they have a problem.
In the case of an employee who is unwilling to admit they have a problem, an intervention may be attempted by the employer, if there is no family or friends willing or able to step in and help.
The role of the employer should not be as an enabler, but rather to support the employee, and provide them with an opportunity to recover, and keep their job.
The employer is, however, within their right to let the employee go, if their work is suffering. Experts suggest that employers do this with a supportive gesture, indicating that when the employee is able to conquer their problem, that they might have a second chance at the company. This provides the employee with an incentive for getting clean.