Alcohol and drug abuse have been a problem for society for a long time. Over the years, the misuse and abuse of these substances have invaded and ruined countless lives, friendships and families. Lately, the spotlight has turned on the impact of substance abuse in the workplace, and the sight is not any prettier.
Substance abuse in the workplace compromises health and safety
The workplace requires its employees to be always alert, efficient and to have quick reflexes. This is most especially true in industries that necessitate the operation of machinery and other heavy equipment. Drug and alcohol abuse impairs a worker’s alertness, concentration and reflexes badly enough to cause serious workplace accidents that could lead to injuries and death. Alcohol related workplace incidents alone account for many of these otherwise preventable occurrences.
The danger posed by substance abuse in the workplace is neither limited to industrial work settings nor to simple accidents. For instance, an office worker whose senses are impaired by drugs or alcohol can instigate unpleasant situations in the workplace. After all, some substances do strip people of their inhibitions while others actually make users aggressive or even violent. It is not unheard of for drunk employees to sexually harass colleagues or even verbally abuse employers in public.
Substance abuse in the workplace impacts job performance
Aside from raising the risk of drug or alcohol-related incidents, substance abuse in the workplace also seriously impacts job performance. Workers who use or abuse alcohol drugs on a regular basis are prone to suffering the effects of their habit, such as hangovers, withdrawals and substance abuse-related illnesses. As a result, these workers are more likely to plunge into absenteeism, which, in turn, reduces productivity.
Substance abuse in the workplace is also being blamed for instances of illegal work activity, including the buying and selling of illicit drugs within the premises of the workplace. As long as there are substance abusers within any organisation, the law of supply and demand will always apply. Substance abusers will find ways to acquire their often illicit drugs of choice, and enterprising co-workers will find ways to get those drugs to them in the most convenient way possible.
The costs of substance abuse in the workplace
Truth be told, measuring the exact cost of substance abuse in the workplace can be difficult. However, there are studies that have offered estimates that would give us an idea how detrimental drug and alcohol abuse can be to any organisation.
The Australian Drug Foundation, for instance, says general absenteeism alone already costs employers $1.2 billion annually. A more recent study conducted by Flinders University’s National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction says alcohol and drugs are causing employees to take 11.5 million sick days annually, which translates to a $3-billion loss for the Australian economy. To drive that point home, leading researchers Collins and Lapsley have pegged the annual economic cost of alcohol and illicit drug misuse to Australian society at $23.7 billion.
On top of productivity losses, substance abuse in the workplace also forces employers to spend more on worker’s compensation claims. Then there are the litigation costs that could arise from legal action filed by employees who have been injured or by families who have lost a loved one due to a drug or alcohol related incident in the workplace.
Another major cost of substance abuse in the workplace that many people don’t realise is the high employee turnover rate. When employees are dismissed from their jobs because of drug and alcohol-related issues, the organisation is in fact also losing the training and experience accumulated by those workers over the years. The terminated employees will have to be replaced, which means a new round of costly training sessions for a fresh batch of workers to get them up to speed.
Factors that contribute to substance abuse in the workplace
Substance abuse in general is often caused by a number of personal and social factors. In the workplace, there are also factors that contribute to substance abuse. Long hours, irregular shifts and fatigue, for instance, can sometimes push an employee to take ice and other stimulants just to be able to keep up with the demands of the job.
Employees are also known to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the high levels of stress they get at work, as well as the low job satisfaction they have to put up with. In some cases, substance abuse in the workplace is triggered by nothing more than periods of inactivity or simply boredom. It is also not unheard of for workers to take drugs or alcohol because they feel isolated or alone at work, both figuratively and literally.
How employers should address substance abuse in the workplace
Many might think that substance abuse is a strictly personal issue that only the families and closest friends of the affected personnel can actually touch. However, considering how their substance abuse impacts the workplace in general, employers have every right to address the issue on their own terms. The best way to address workplace substance abuse is to establish a drug and alcohol policy.
The importance of a drug and alcohol policy
While a growing number of employers are now doing their best to undertake drug safety policy development and implement a drug and alcohol policy, many organisations remain without one. This would be unfortunate, because a well-drafted drug and alcohol policy does more than just outline an acceptable code of behaviour for everyone in the workplace.
Primarily, a drug and alcohol policy should explicitly state its stand against substance abuse in the workplace in any way, shape or form. Citing the organisation’s commitment to protecting the health, safety and well-being of employees and everyone who comes into contact with its workplace and property, a drug and alcohol policy is expected to make the illicit use, possession, sale, conveyance, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs, intoxicants, or controlled substances in any amount or in any manner within the workplace strictly prohibited. Consequences for breaching such rules should also be clearly stated, such as suspensions, dismissals and even recommendations for prosecution in court.
There are employers, however, who have framed their drug and alcohol policy in a way that makes it more geared towards helping troubled employees than punishing them. More often, than not, these employers believe that drug and alcohol abuse or addiction is a sickness, and that an employee with substance abuse problems deserve the chance to be rehabilitated. Today, many drug and alcohol policies have established an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which, among other things, allows employers to offer direct help such as counselling or referrals for outside professional help for drug abusers.
A good drug and alcohol policy should include a drug testing program, which, in most cases, serves as the backbone for the policy as a whole. With a drug testing program in place, the employer should be able to reduce the likelihood of workplace accidents that could cause severe injuries and even death. When an accident does inevitably occur, drug testing should be able to determine if the personnel involved was impaired in any way by drugs and alcohol. If the results return negative, the employee should be cleared. A positive drug test for any substance, on the other hand, would give the employer the authority to deal with the worker in line with the rules dictated by its drug and alcohol policy.
While a growing number of employers are now realising the impact of substance abuse in the workplace and have launched initiatives to deal with it, many organisations still don’t have a drug and alcohol policy–and therefore programs for drug testing at work–in place. In a world where some of the most addictive substances like alcohol and prescription drugs can be purchased legally, it is imperative that employers establish one to preserve the health and safety of everyone in the workplace.
Here’s an infographic to sum it all up: