Human Resources: Substance Abuse Is On The Rise – What To Do In The Workplace

In June of this year, the National Safety Council (NSC) warned employers to prepare for an increase in addiction issues. Stress is an important biological response, but too much stress has detrimental effects.


“Every single employee is facing an incredible amount of stress right now. Employees need mental health resources and support both in the immediate future and down the line,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC President and CEO.

“Employees would benefit from having employer support through these difficult times. It can make a significant difference for their mental and physical health.”


Under stress, the appeal of alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism can be hard to deny.


A balancing act for managers and business owners

Handling workplace addiction is a balancing act for managers and business owners. The goal is to blend compassion for the employee with the need to keep the workplace running smoothly, all while ensuring that all company procedures and obligations are met.


These action steps should help:

Check the big red flags

Especially performance or production decline. Managers should address any performance issues or problematic behavior, but not jump to conclusions about the underlying cause.


Don’t let the situation escalate

If the behavior or warning signs are more egregious, it is important to respond immediately – both for the safety of the work place, for morale among the team, as well as providing support for the employee.




Avoid making an accusation

Even if an employee displays symptoms of being intoxicated or impaired by drugs, there may be other explanations, such as a medication. Focus on describing the behavior that is of concern without blaming, shaming, or accusing, and ask if the employee has anything they want to share.


Get clear about what help is available

If the employee chooses to share information about a substance abuse issue, be ready to provide information about an available employee assistance program (EAP), leaves of absence, or human resource contacts. If you don’t have an EAP yet, consider investing in these programs, they are surprisingly affordable.


Provide training for your team

Create the situation where open discussion is fostered and supported. If you and your team are working remotely – find ways to connect each week and continue to build resilience as a team. Keep communication lines open.


If you have concerns about a remote employee and substance abuse

The process is the same. Focus on the gap between work expectations and what has actually happened. Performance review systems are important any time – but especially with remote workers. Get clear with what you expect from employees so you can measure performance. This helps if you have any concern about a possible addiction impacting work.


Review your employee handbook

Make sure you have clear policy statements about substance abuse and the work place. If your policy is out of date or you don’t have one, now is a good time to put new guidelines in place.


Guidelines for employers

NSC lays out recommendations for employers in its Stress, Emotional and Mental Health Considerations Playbook. Employers are in a unique position to spot signs and symptoms of substance abuse. With stress levels heightened, be prepared to offer help.


Companies that care about their employees on a personal level and offer help where needed are simply better places to work.

This does help the bottom-line, but it also helps people. Recovering alcoholics and addicts all over the world learn that helping people is the key to happiness. It seems the health of a business can benefit from this attitude as well!




Kate Wells is a veteran small business owner and HR expert. She acts as Chief HR Officer for small and startup businesses who need HR expertise without the employee overhead. Her greatest joy is in setting employees, and therefore the business, up for success. Knowledgeable in the ways of business and people she is a consultant who gets stuff done.  Kate has two adult daughters, a lifetime sweetheart, and enjoys hiking, road biking, kayaking, reading, jigsaw puzzles, baking, building things with power tools, and laughing.




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