By Becca Owens
Addiction usually permeates every area of life, including work, and work often exacerbates the problems of addiction. Even when someone has become very skilled at hiding signs of addiction from family, the environment of work can often spotlight the difficulties of managing an addiction and work life simultaneously.
Employees may fear losing their jobs as well as receiving judgment from coworkers if word of their addiction gets out. However, employers also face a difficult position regarding how to best provide care for their employee with an addiction as well as protect the integrity and productivity of their workplace.
Addiction in the Workplace
Because addiction is so prevalent, it also spills over into the workplace. Nearly one in four people admit to having had a drink while on the job in the last year, and of the 14.8 million people fighting addiction in the U.S., 70 percent of them are employed.1 Although addictions may go undetected for some time, eventually most people who are addicted begin to show signs of their addiction.
Common concerning behaviors include the following:
- Missing work. When employees begin uncharacteristically or increasingly missing work for obscure or confusing reasons or showing up late — particularly on Mondays — it could be a sign of addiction.
- Failing performance. Employees who once were top performers will often begin to show a decrease in productivity. They may offer extravagant excuses for late or lackluster work, too.
- Tension among coworkers. Those who work hard to cover an addiction will often also become defensive toward anyone who questions perceived changes. Employees may become passive-aggressive toward people who were once close friends.
- Erratic behavior. Mood swings and changes in personality — or becoming unpredictable in general — can all be signs of underlying issues, like an addiction.2
Although one of these above signs may not indicate an addiction on its own, often two or three combined can be a signal that the employee is in a rough spot in some way and needs some help. However, as an employer, knowing how to help can be tricky.
Helping an Employee Who Has An Addiction
On top of common fears associated with having an addiction discovered, employees will often take extra measures to hide their struggles in fear of losing their jobs. Therefore, finding an appropriate way to approach an employee you suspect is fighting an addiction can be difficult.
The following are some ways to proactively protect yourself and your workplace before you even notice a problem:
- Clearly defined policies. One of the best ways to protect employees and yourself is to communicate company expectations upfront. Whether your alcohol and drug use policies — as well as addiction help policies — are detailed in an employee manual or a separate document of their own, it’s helpful to make sure all employees have read and consented to the policy and have access to it at any time.
- Open and honest culture. A great way to destigmatize addiction in the workplace is to lead in sharing stories of recovery. Even if you, as the employer, have not fought an addiction in the past, bringing in someone who has as part of employee training can be beneficial to all. It sends the statement that your company supports addiction recovery and champions seeking help.
- Healthy work relationships. If, as the employer, you never take notice of your employees lives until there are issues, it will be much more difficult to reach out when you notice signs of addiction. Although appropriate boundaries must be maintained for a safe work atmosphere, it is important to make sure your employees know that you care and are available to listen at any point.
Employee Assistance Programs
As an employer, supporting your employees throughout different life challenges promotes a healthy atmosphere and establishes strong rapport with employees to increase employee attention. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) aid in all these endeavors. They are generally part of a benefits package but are also available to those who are not part of the insurance group.
EAPs are there to step in to help employees with a variety of life challenges — from financial and legal struggles to addiction recovery help. They serve as a liaison between employees and the professionals who can help them grow through whatever struggle they are currently in. So for those who are fighting an addiction, an EAP can connect them to different treatment facilities and work with the employer to manage the details of work expectations.3
Help for Employers and Employees Fighting Addiction at Work
If you or one of your employees is struggling with an addiction, Michael’s House can help. We can talk employers through steps to address the problems at work and guide you through getting your employee help. Our caring admissions coordinators can also help employees know how to approach the subject and know their rights within the company.
At Michael’s House, we seek to treat the whole person — mind, body and soul — so that you will be able to return to daily life with a healthy outlook for all areas of your world, including your job. Please call us today at our 24 hour, toll-free helpline to start your journey to freedom.
1 “Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, April 26, 2015.
2 Yagoda, Robert, “Addiction in the Workplace: Tips for Employers.” US News and World Report, August 4, 2016.
3 “What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?” US Office of Personnel Management, Accessed Juy 11, 2018.