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How Employers Can Help Their Employees Through Addiction

Ruth Hoffmann
Ruth Hoffmann

Addiction signals the employee is experiencing something difficult in their personal life. It's a symptom, not the cause of their problems. It's important that you, as the employer, treat it this way.

Addiction can strike anyone at any place, and it’s nothing to joke about. It can completely ruin a person’s life, and even when it doesn’t go that far, it can still have a devastating effect for a long time.

I've seen this firsthand myself. Catching one of my employees high on the job, barely even able to function, was not a pleasant experience. But I knew it was up to me to help him pull through this, because I was one of the people most actively involved in his life at that point.

It's important to recognize when someone is struggling with addiction, especially if you're in a position where you're in charge of multiple people.

If you supervise people, it's very important that you're careful and attentive. Pay attention to situations that might indicate that someone is in need of help.

Identifying problems

It's not easy to spot when someone has an addiction problem. The classical caricature of an addict depicted in media like films and TV shows is exaggerated in most cases. If you see someone that obvious, then they're too far gone for help in most cases. For most people, addiction is subtle and hard to spot unless you're paying attention.

Sometimes a supervisor or manager might not realize they are dealing with anything problematic. These cases are particularly difficult, because the person might be in denial, and it can be a challenge to get through to them and convince them that they need help.

The importance of a gentle approach

That's why it's so important to be gentle and patient. As Infinite Recovery reports, a supervisor has to carefully and methodically approach the situation and communicate their care and concern for the employee and his or her well-being.

People rarely react well when they think they're being persecuted, especially if the individual is not willing to admit that they have a problem.

Observe the employee from a distance before talking with them. You'll not only have a chance to confirm that you're seeing what you think you're seeing, but you may also ascertain other important details about the exact condition of the person you're approaching.

Don't blame or accuse anyone

Nobody likes to be accused of anything. If you present the problem in a more reasonable way, you can usually elicit a better response, and the employee might be more willing to cooperate with you to reach a good resolution. But if you approach the employee and situation the wrong way, it can completely seal off any opportunity to talk to that person in a reasonable way in the future.

Try to frame it as an unfortunate situation and that you want to help them pull through. As long as you make it clear that you're there for that person and that they won't be punished for suffering from an addiction, you're setting the situation up for a good start.

Taking action is a must

Once you've identified problematic cases in your workplace, you have to take action to remedy those situations. It's up to you as the organization's leader to ensure that everyone is living up to their full potential, and in some cases, it entails frankly talking to employees about addiction and helping them find a solution.

There are various programs designed to help employers address and resolve employee addiction issues. This can cover both problems with substance abuse as well as other types of addictions, such as food, video games and more. Many influences can have a negative impact on a person's life, and it's important to treat them all the same when you want to create a calm, safe atmosphere in your workplace.

Is screening a good approach?

At some point, you'll have to make the difficult decision of deciding whether or not you need to screen your employees for drugs. Screening is a sensitive subject, and you need to present it in a way that reassures everyone that drug testing is for the good of the company as a whole.

You should also think about the exact details of how you'll screen employees. Regularly scheduled tests are usually the best approach, but they are prone to problems like employees planning around them. The objective is to deal with addiction problems and remove them from the workplace, not to punish people. To that end, you should develop your screening program in a way that maximizes the chance of identifying problematic cases.

Screening incoming candidates

You also have to think about screening new employees. If you have a problem with addiction and substance abuse in your organization, you should definitely think about taking preventative action to minimize the risk of bad apples making it into the company in the first place.

Drug testing is standard for many industries, so you may not have to deal with any significant backlash if you implement it. If you do, inform every job candidate that you perform drug screenings, notify new employees about the exact reasons why they're being tested and reassure everyone to the best of your abilities that you're not singling any one person out.

Developing a healthy internal culture

Addiction is very often indicative that a person is going through something difficult in their personal life. It's a symptom, not the cause of their problems in most cases, and it's important that you treat it this way as an employer.

It's possible that the culture at your workplace contributes to the mental issues that drive some employees to addiction. Even if the workplace is not the main driving factor behind these problems, it can still contribute a lot to them.

The point is that you should do your best to create a healthy environment that promotes positive thinking and interaction between employees. Many companies have a toxic environment without even realizing it, and this is especially prevalent in cases where higher management is more detached from the rest of the organization.

Preventing recurring problems

Dealing with an addiction situation once is difficult enough, but things can get even tougher if you want to prevent these problems from returning in the future. Creating a healthier workplace environment as described above is one of the best steps you can take, but there's also more that you can do. Talk to employees, let them know that you're always there for them, even after they've pulled through their problems.

When you notice that an employee may be slipping back into their negative habits, don't postpone approaching them. Do this as soon as you can to minimize the risk of any relapses. Addiction is an ongoing problem for many people, and you'll have to treat it that way if you want to deal with it effectively.

Sometimes you need to be harsh

In the end though, being nice only takes you so far. Sometimes people take advantage of your kindness and don't have any intention of getting back on their feet. It's important in these cases to put your foot down and let your employees know that it won't be tolerated in your organization. Be prepared to follow through on that statement.

The important thing is to show employees that keeping the workplace safe, appropriate and conducive to productivity is your top priority.

Scaling up your organization

As your organization grows, you'll likely find it more challenging to deal with certain kinds of addiction issues – it becomes more difficult to maintain oversight over your entire workforce. When you get to that point, hire external help. You often benefit from having a third party evaluate your organization and advise you on how you can tackle addiction issues effectively. 

You owe it to your employees and your company as a whole to keep things functioning optimally. It's up to you as the leader of an organization to anticipate addiction issues, prevent them as best as you can and get on top of them when they develop. In the long run, staying attentive and being proactive results in a productive workplace that has a reputation for stability.


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Ruth Hoffmann
Ruth Hoffmann Member
I teach coaches, consultants & professional service providers the strategic & psychologically proven frameworks that will help them build a highly influential personal brand profile, grow a highly engaged client base of loyal customers and create strategic marketing systems that will help them sell with ease.