With heavy drinking considered as a cultural norm in Australia, it is very likely that you have a colleague at work who is technically an alcoholic. More often than not, however, the managers or supervisors in your workplace haven’t really done much about it, especially when the company you’re working for doesn’t have a clear drug and alcohol policy in place.
Still, it is the responsibility of employers and managers to deal with an alcoholic in the workplace, especially when that alcoholic is already starting perform poorly at work. Intervention becomes even more urgent if the employee is assigned to a safety-sensitive job.
Intervention should be done right
While experts believe that intervention is often the only way to get an alcoholic into treatment, it could only work if done right. If your idea of intervention is confronting the colleague you suspect to be alcoholic and directly asking them about their drinking, they are likely to be more defiant and this could result in conflict. Dealing with situations like this requires training and education, which a drug safety program can provide in spades.
Focus on job performance
For a manager, the best way to deal with an alcoholic colleague is to focus on the person’s job performance. If you’re a manager and you suspect that one of your colleagues is an alcoholic, start documenting instances of poor job performance. Absenteeism is one common sign that a person is facing alcohol problems. The same goes for a dip in the quality of work.
Once you have a written record of all work performance issues, arrange a meeting with the person concerned. However, it is important to keep the discussion focused on performance. Drinking should never even be mentioned during this meeting. Instead, ask about the performance shortcomings you have recorded, impress upon the person the need for improvement. It’s also important to ask if there’s any way you can help.
On that first meeting, it’s likely that the employee concerned will just admit to the poor work performance and probably promise to do better. If the employee is indeed an alcoholic, you can expect those performance woes to continue to be an issue. So call for another meeting, and be tougher this time, yet still steer clear of any mention of alcohol. Recommend a session with an employee assistance counsellor, if the organisation has one. The trained counsellor would be in the best position to diagnose alcoholism and recommend treatment options.
It is common for managers and other co-workers to ignore signs that a colleague may be an alcoholic. Whatever their reasons, avoiding confrontation with alcoholics in the office is not doing anybody, much less the employees concerned, a favour. If you actually care about a colleague whom you suspect to be an alcoholic, the best thing you can do is to actually deal with them before things get any worse.