Impacts of Substance Abuse

Dealing with Substance Abuse

Management needs to address workplace substance abuse problems quickly and directly. Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy to do because it’s difficult to accurately predict how the employee will respond.

First, a manager must plan exactly how he or she wants the discussion to go. Thorough documentation of behaviors and incidents will back up the discussion and keep the conversation from derailing because of employee denial.

After preparing for the discussion, choose a quiet, private location to hold it. It’s a good idea to have another member of management in the room in case the employee begins to react aggressively.

Remember to keep the conversation primarily limited to known, clear behavior and job-performance issues because, again, signs of substance abuse may not always actually mean there is substance abuse occurring. Avoid accusations. After discussing behavior and performance problems and any related consequences or action plans, offer the employee resources and/or information for employee assistance programs (EAPs) that may help tackle his or her issues. Of course, this meeting must be treated with confidentiality and respect for the employee’s privacy.

In a worst-case scenario, don’t be afraid to contact security or local law enforcement if the employee begins to react with violence or threats of violence. Keep your own safety in mind.

Preventing Substance Abuse

It isn’t always simple to prevent workplace substance abuse. Often the underlying cause will exist outside of the workplace (and therefore out of your control).

The most effective preliminary measure to avoid this issue is to ensure there is an all-encompassing, thorough, written policy regarding workplace substance abuse. It should be clear there is a zero-tolerance policy and any known incidents of substance abuse at work will be approached quickly and with consequences. A written policy puts responsibility directly into the hands of the employees, letting them know what is expected of them on the job and what the results will be if expectations are not met.

It’s also a good idea to have resources, like EAPs, available to employees struggling with substance abuse. Websites, information centers and phone numbers, and local rehabilitation centers should be easily accessible to all employees regardless of whether they are under investigation for substance abuse.

Finally, while choosing whether or not to abuse substances is ultimately the employee’s responsibility, it’s important to consider the workplace conditions, as well. It’s entirely possible certain conditions, such as high stress, unreasonable deadlines, long hours, fluctuating shifts, employee isolation and little supervision may contribute to an employee feeling the need to turn to substance abuse. Look for ways to identify and alter these sorts of workplace conditions to reduce the risks of workplace substance abuse.

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About Michael Rich

Michael Rich is in charge of product development for Tempe, Ariz.-based Safety Services Co., a supplier of occupational health and safety training and compliance materials.

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