So you have this employee who has been a rising star ever since being accepted into your company, but you can’t help but notice certain changes about him lately. You look at his work, and you can see that its quality has taken a dip. You also notice that he appears to be looking more disheveled with each passing day, as if he has thrown the idea of personal hygiene and good grooming out the window. He also almost always dozes off during meetings.
As the employer or manager of this employee, it is only proper that you feel concerned about these signs, which you suspect are that of substance abuse.
Signs of substance abuse in the workplace to look out for
Proving it, however, can prove to be really tough. Your organisation might have drug and alcohol testing policies in place, but you can’t just accuse the employee of being a drug abuser and demand a drug test without anything concrete to back your claims. The subject of substance abuse in the workplace is a delicate matter, and you have to tread lightly if you suspect an employee to be abusing drugs or alcohol. Still, it’s your responsibility to find the truth of the matter and confront your employee. You need to do this so you can offer much needed help, and more importantly, ensure the safety of the other employees in your organization.
If you want to help your employee, you have to be on the lookout for some of the more apparent signs of substance abuse, which, at the very least, should be covered in the seminars under the company’s drug safety program. As mentioned above, poor work performance and worsening personal hygiene are two of the more obvious signs of substance abuse. Low productivity, loss of focus, frequent absences, and tardiness are as common in drug abusers as showing up for work inappropriately dressed, unshaven, and with bloodshot eyes. A drug abuser also exhibits changes in mood, as they tend to be more irritable, withdrawn, or in some cases, excessively chatty. The relationships of drug abusers also suffer, as their substance abuse makes them uncooperative, argumentative, accusative, and their listening skills take a dive.
Then again, all the signs above could be of problems other than substance abuse, and that is why you really have to tread lightly when dealing with it. Before confronting your employee, we recommend that you make your observation and put them in writing, because they will come in handy as a reference point when you finally talk to the employee about your suspicions.
So keep a record of the employee’s absences and tardiness, failures to meet deadlines, and any workplace incident they find themselves involved in, like an argument with a co-worker or something similar. Maintain objectivity in your notes, so your suspicions should not be written down, nor should you share them or tell anyone else about them.
Eventually, you will have to talk to the employee concerned, but the biggest mistake you could make is accuse them of substance abuse right off the bat. As much as possible, stick to your notes, and just discuss those absences, the low work quality, or the incidents they got involved in. All throughout the talk, you must maintain an even tone and avoid becoming emotional, accusative, and threatening. Do not mention your suspicions of substance abuse yet.
The talk should give the employee an opportunity to explain, so you should listen well. In many cases, the employee admits to the shortcomings, but not to substance abuse of any kind. So leave it at that, and warn the employee that you will have to reprimand or terminate if productivity does not improve soon.
Encourage the employee to get help
However, if the employee admits to substance abuse, you immediately have to gather other leaders in your company, particularly HR personnel, union representative, and/or your resident occupational health and safety expert. This should be done in haste, especially if the employee concerned performs a job that could pose a risk not only to himself, but also to others, such as driving a delivery truck or operating machinery.
If there’s one course of action that you should not immediately take when finding out that an employee is suffering from substance abuse, it would be terminating or firing that employee. You see, drug addiction these days is considered a disease and in most cases, a disability. If you immediately fire someone for having a drug addiction, you are in effect violating that employee’s human rights, and that could expose your company to the possibility of a lawsuit. Taking this kind of action will also discourage other substance abusers in your company to admit to taking drugs.
Instead of punishing your employee, the best course of action would be to encourage that worker to get help, and transfer them to another post where they would not pose a danger to anyone.
If you have company assistance programs or even simple well-being programs in place, you should direct the employee to avail of them. You can also recommend community agencies that will help your worker achieve sobriety. The point here is you have to encourage the employee to get help, and when they do, make sure everything about it is documented, and its progress should be monitored and reviewed regularly.
Substance abuse in the workplace is not an easy thing to handle, but with your ability to recognise its signs and your willingness to confront it and offer the employee concerned help and compassion, you are doing more to not only ensure the health and safety of everyone in the workplace, but protect your organisation as well.