Working under the influence also referred to as WUI, is estimated to occur in about 15 percent of the U.S. workforce. While employees in certain industries may be more likely to drink on the job and others less likely, the signs are common across many industries. As a human resources manager, it is important to be able to recognize the signs so your workplace may take proper steps and your employees may seek the help they need from alcohol rehab.
Recognizing Employee Behaviors
Physical signs are some of the first warning signs that an employee may be drinking at work. For example, maybe the person smells like alcohol or is not walking the way he or she usually walks. Maybe your employees’ behavior is not as consistent as the behavior of other employees. They may have mood swings, such as laughing one minute and crying uncontrollably the next.
Bloodshot eyes or falling asleep at work are other signs of WUI, along with avoidance of supervisors or managers. Signs that people are trying to cover up their alcohol usages, such as constantly using mouthwash, gum, or mints, are also common warning signs of WUI. Tremors are also a warning sign, as well as an employee’s inability to focus on the job he or she is doing or should be doing.
Declines in Performance
Declining employee performance is another sign that an employee may be drinking in the workplace and may need alcohol rehabilitation. Some warning signs include frequently missing set deadlines. Often times, employees will give many excuses as to why their work is late and why they are no longer meeting their goals.
Even when alcoholic employees do complete their work, it may appear sloppy and contain many mistakes. While people may have good intentions of performing at their highest levels, alcoholism and drinking in the workplace may lead to poor decisions and poor work quality.
Possible Conflicts Among Employees
Drinking on the job may impact more than just the performance of the employees who are drinking. It may also impact their coworkers. Sometimes drinking may create conflict among employees, leading to disagreements, fights, and violent behavior.
Accidents also happen. Although accidents are not intentional, workplace injuries may occur when employees drink on the job and hurt themselves or the employees who work with them. Some examples of accidental injuries in the workplace include falls, burns, or vehicle accidents. Drinkers may also isolate themselves or behave in antisocial ways to other employees to keep their drinking concealed. Antisocial behavior may create more tension in the workplace and therefore more conflict.
Frequent Attendance Issues
Attendance issues may also be warning signs that employees are drinking on the job. Being absent on a frequent basis or continuously using sick days maybe two such indicators. Perhaps the employees are constantly late or frequently leaving early. They may follow certain patterns, such as not showing up at work on Fridays after they are paid or taking many Mondays off because the days are the start of a long work week.
Disappearing at work may also be a warning sign. Perhaps the employees are away from their desks or stations for prolonged periods of time without valid explanations. Such employees may seem to encounter emergencies often, and they may have ready excuses for such emergencies, such as car trouble, home repairs, situations with family members, and so on.
Possible Causes of Drinking in the Workplace
Although it is difficult to say what causes people to drink in the workplace, it is important to consider various factors that may influence and increase the risk of employees’ alcohol use and drinking habits. Perhaps the employees started drinking socially, but their work environments have caused them to increase drinking to the point that they are now in need of alcohol treatment.
Sometimes employees may feel isolated or lonely in their work environments, so they consume alcohol. Perhaps they do not get along with everyone in the office and are being bullied. Having to work extended shifts or long hours may be stressful as well. Dangerous environments or job duties, and even poor conditions at work may be other causes for employees to start drinking on the job. Lack of supervision or training, which may also cause poor job satisfaction or stress, may also contribute to WUI.
Your Role as a Human Resource Manager
When alcohol abuse interferes with an employee’s work performance, potentially creating safety issues and impacting other employees, it is the responsibly of human resources staff members to remedy the situation. It is up to you to assess the situation and provide the necessary support for possible alcoholism treatment.
You may start the process by setting up a meeting with the employee. Make this meeting confidential and make sure that other staff members are not present. The employee’s alcoholism is to be treated as a medical condition, and the employee should receive the same type of treatment as someone with other medical conditions.
While you cannot force people to seek help from rehab centers for alcohol, you may urge employees to contact their doctors and ask for the help they may need. During this process, it is important to reassure employees that they have your full support as they move forward in dealing with their alcoholism. Together, you can both agree on future goals and actions and schedule meetings regularly in order to go over the employees’ progress.
Establishing a clear policy regarding substance misuse in your workplace is also important and it may help if you need to take disciplinary action. Your policy should detail what employees are allowed and not allowed to consume during work hours and should include what happens to employees who do not follow the rules set in place.
What If Employees Do Not Want Your Help?
Sometimes, your efforts to help employees may be unsuccessful. Perhaps they deny they that have certain conditions and they do not want to work with you. Maybe they admit that they have problems but deny that they need help and insist that their substance use is not impacting their jobs.
Depending on the employees’ performances and other factors, you may have to take disciplinary action. This action may require you to inform your employees that they did not follow your company’s policy and to implement some sort of disciplinary process. This may be your very last option, especially if the employees refuse to work with you.
Implementing a Workplace Alcohol Program
Increasingly, larger workplaces are implementing programs for alcohol and substance use. Such programs aim to help
- Increase morale
- Increase productivity
- Increase workplace safety
- Reduce turnover
- Reduce insurance payments made by the employer
Such programs encourage employee treatment and strive to reduce the impact of alcoholism in the workplace.
If you suspect that your employees are drinking at work and show some of these signs, it is your duty to protect the employees who are WUI and the employees around them. Alcoholism is a difficult topic to discuss, so it is important not to use judgmental or accusatory tones when talking with your employees. Once you are aware of the signs of alcoholism and know that your employees have been drinking in the workplace, you may help them take steps toward recovery and support them along the way.