Substance Abuse in the Workplace
In recent months, economists confirmed what many people have suspected all along: The United States has been in a recession since 2007. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009), job losses have totaled more than four million and unemployment is the highest it has been in 25 years. A recent American Psychological Association survey revealed that nearly half of all adults are worried about how they will manage financially.
The economic downturn has affected both employers and employees. Many people are experiencing increased stress and pressure—from retailers selling fewer products, to stay-at-home moms having to return to work, and managers downsizing workers.
Workers who survived layoffs make up a group of individuals who face what organizational psychologists call ‘workplace survivor syndrome’. These employees undergo a range of emotions including feeling relieved they have their jobs, sadness for their coworkers who were let go and anger for having more work to do. A 2003 Institute of Behavioral Science survey indicated that alcohol and drug consumption increased among individuals who survived workplace layoffs.
When substance abuse permeates the workplace, employers and employees suffer. Substance abuse often costs employees their health and sometimes even their lives. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2009) revealed the following workplace statistics:
- 77% of illegal drug users hold either full-time or part-time jobs.
- More than 60% of adults know someone who has worked under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Substance abuse costs American businesses approximately 81 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, absenteeism and accidents.
- 500 million workdays are lost annually from employee substance abuse
Substance-abusing employees often demonstrate problems with personal appearance, work performance, interpersonal relationships and dependability. Managers and employees must address these problems. Managers should not ignore attendance or productivity issues, and coworkers should not enable substance-abusing employees by doing their work. Failure to confront the issues could not only create internal problems but could create legal liability for the company. Therefore, managers must become educated on workplace substance abuse and address the problem directly. Although different organizations have different workplace policies, managers can address substance abuse by:
- Education: Learn the signs of substance abuse impairment.
- Documenting: Keep detailed records of employee performance problems.
- Providing feedback: Provide observable, objective performance feedback.
- Consulting Human Resources: Seek advice from the Human Resources department including referral resources.
- Making an appropriate referral: Refer employees to available resources without making a diagnosis.
Although there is no “one size fits all” substance-abuse prevention program, managers and employees can help alleviate the financial and human side effects of substance abuse at work.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). United States Department of Labor. Retrieved May 28, 2009.
Institute of Behavioral Science. (2003). University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved May 28, 2009.
United States Department of Health & Human Services. (2009). HHS.gov. Retrieved May 28, 2009.