Guide to Alcoholism in the Workplace

There is no denying that alcohol abuse can cause both mental and physical health problems for sufferers. A person suffering from alcohol issues will be in poor health, may find it difficult to have good relationships and it can cause major problems in their career. As well as the obvious personal issues that are created by this addiction there will also be an impact on the person’s workplace and colleagues. An affected employee may be suffering from pressure at work, difficulties with colleagues or have issues in their personal and family life.   This guide aims to help employers and managers to understand the effects of alcohol abuse in the workplace and take the correct steps in dealing with the situation once it is recognised.

The Increase of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

Alcohol has become part of the social culture in many workplaces in recent years. This makes it more difficult for management to notice when there is an abuse of alcohol and distinguish between acceptable alcohol consumption from an employee drinking to excess, before, during and after work.  Understanding the reasons for alcohol abuse can help employers to refrain from judging an affected employee and be more supportive. Addiction can be caused by issues with parenting, marital problems or other life concerns.  People do not choose to have this problem, but they may have been affected by these triggers and are unable to stop or control their alcohol abuse. In addition, sometimes the workplace itself is the problem. Unhealthy relationships with colleagues, lack of training and extreme performance expectations can cause stress for employees who may have turned to alcohol in order to cope.

Employers should exercise their duty of care to their employees by not encouraging a culture of alcohol consumption. They should promote health and wellbeing as part of the workplace culture. They should also promote a positive environment that encourages equality and support. This will reduce the amount of alcohol abuse but may not eliminate it.  To improve support to employees, ideally each workplace should offer an assistance programme for employees with alcohol issues. This should be shared widely across each organisation. This programme can offer support to those who have addictions and their families and co-workers who are affected by it too.

How Can Alcohol Abuse Impact the Workplace?

Health and Safety

Mistakes made due to alcohol consumption can lead to accidents and injuries not only for the affected employee but also for colleagues who are injured as a result of negligence. This risk increases in workplaces which have manual labour and use machinery. Alcohol abuse puts everyone at risk in this situation.

Workplace Performance

It is likely that an employee who is abusing alcohol will have a lower work output and a poorer performance. As well as affecting the quality of work, productivity will be lowered.

Workplace Relationships

An employee who is abusing alcohol may have a personality change which will affect their relationships with colleagues. The situation could mean that colleagues have an increased workload or must cover for mistakes which could lead to resentment in the workplace. Colleagues may be concerned about the affected employee and become stressed and anxious themselves, affecting their own performance at work.

Liability and Losses

Employers may find themselves financially and legally liable if employees are involved in accidents due to an abuse of alcohol. Insurance cover may be affected and not pay out if an employer is seen to have ignored their responsibility to deal with alcohol issues and the inevitable consequences.

The Importance of a Supportive Workplace Culture

The duty of care of an employer involves providing a supportive work environment that promotes the wellbeing and mental health of their staff.  Employees are more at risk of alcohol abuse if they have poor conditions at work such as long hours, low pay and bullying from colleagues or management. These can all be triggers for drinking alcohol. Instead, employees would benefit from a positive atmosphere where they can approach managers to talk about their concerns without fear of being judged.

A positive work environment will encourage employees to raise their concerns and allow them to express themselves openly and ask for help with their work and home issues. Alcohol addiction is a sensitive subject which causes embarrassment for the sufferer and they will need a supportive atmosphere if they are to talk freely about their struggles. A workplace that openly offers robust referral or rehabilitation programmes for mental health issues and addictions is more likely to encourage employees to seek support.

Workplace Guidelines for Tackling Alcohol Abuse

All employers have a duty of care to act when they suspect there is alcohol abuse within their workplace. Employers will need to be able to identify the signs of alcohol or substance addiction to put actions into place to prevent further abuse and support employees. They should have a workplace policy for dealing with alcohol abuse which is available for all staff to read. They should also provide an assistance programme to reduce the impact of alcohol abuse and support employees who are struggling.

Employers should be willing to listen to their employees who are struggling with alcohol abuse. They should be compassionate and supportive and non-judgemental, however, it is important to note that the employer cannot diagnose the employee as an alcoholic; this is a medical diagnosis. Proper support will encourage employees to have a positive attitude towards seeking help and being open about their issues. This may help to address problems early before they have too great an impact on the workplace.

Professional Help for Alcohol Addictions

With the rise of mental health issues, alongside alcohol and substance abuse, it is vital that employers have the knowledge to support their employees and this should include referring employees for professional support.  There are many ways of referral; the employee’s GP, local abuse support organisations and the Rehab Clinic Group.  The Rehab Clinic Group provides professional support from specialists in alcohol and substance addiction.

Using Rehab Clinic Group to provide appropriate alcohol treatment programmes can make it easier for employees to start the process to recovery and return to full health both in and out of the workplace.