Every year, countless sums of money are spent on behalf of those who suffer from substance use disorder. From emergency room costs to the expenses of the criminal justice system, billions of dollars go toward paying for the consequences of America’s drug crisis. This number gets even higher when you consider the numerous man hours lost due to addiction in the workplace. It is a deeply troubling problem, especially for managers who would rather see their employees get better than face the dilemma of letting them go. Fortunately, by understanding the problem, those who work with struggling substance users may find that they are more than able to help.
Statistics on Addiction in the Workplace
Labor-related economic costs have grown steadily over the years. According to the Department of Labor, the total economic cost of drug abuse in 1992 was estimated at $246 billion, with lost productivity valued at $81.6 billion. In 2007, fifteen years later, the Department of Justice valued economic losses at only $193 billion, but noted that $120 billion of this was from lost productivity. This included outside inconveniences that hampered the substance user’s ability to work, such as treatment, incarceration, and hospitalization. Absenteeism and general lack of labor participation alone accounted for more than $49 billion of this total.
While these figures pertain to illicit drugs, alcoholism alone accounts for staggering productivity costs. Absenteeism can increase by anywhere from four to eight times when there is an alcoholic in the workplace, with lost productivity costing American businesses between $33 billion and $68 billion yearly.
Drugs and alcohol affect not only productivity, but the health of the overall working environment as well. Performance, behavior, attendance and workplace relationships all suffer when one or more employees struggle with substance use. It can become very difficult for managers to decide how to handle the situation.
The Moral Dilemmas of Upper Management
When deciding how to prevent future productivity losses, supervisors face moral and ethical dilemmas. If the employee is generally functional and reliable, it can be difficult to admit that their behavior and performance need to change. Sometimes a functional user spirals out of control, and managers want to believe that things will eventually level out on their own. Others feel that the only choices are to either risk financial losses or simply fire the employee. Letting go of an employee is never an enjoyable task, especially if they have a family to support.
For this reason, managers may begin with a simple confrontation, similar to the interventions typically held by family and friends. Let the employee know that their behavior has become problematic and that continued performance issues will yield consequences. Also, consider offering them a chance to participate in an employee assistance program. These are among the most common workplace interventions used, typically involving treatment followed by aftercare services to increase the chances of successful relapse prevention.
If the employee accepts your offer to undergo treatment, you can thereafter consider them a recovering addict or alcoholic under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This does not cover them if they continue using. Managers who remain wary of future productivity losses may take the following measures under the ADA:
- Issuing drug tests to ensure continued sobriety.
- Prohibiting alcohol on the premises.
- Requiring that employees in recovery meet the same standards as others, receiving no special treatment.
The “no special treatment” rule is vital. If two employees drink on the job, firing only the employee with a history of alcoholism is grounds for discrimination. On the other hand, you cannot let only the alcoholic employee off the hook while punishing the other simply because one of them has a known problem with drinking.
You must also not bend over backward to meet requests for help. Support their recovery efforts, but do not let them leave early for a meeting if they have not made their deadlines. Countless individuals make time in their day to accommodate both work and recovery. Expect your employee to do the same, or else you will continue to hurt workplace relationships by creating the illusion that the employee in recovery has been favored over the rest of your staff. And never, under any circumstances, risk enabling them by offering them money that they have not earned.
Our Employee Assistance Program
Foundations Wellness Center sympathizes with both managers and employees in situations such as those described above. That’s why we aim to help all parties involved by providing an employee assistance program that teaches employees to overcome substance use disorder while dealing with any other personal issues that may have an impact on their workplace performance. Through this program, we have helped numerous managers to develop a stronger, more productive workplace without having to let go of a cherished colleague.
On top of our employee assistance program, those who seek treatment at Foundations are able to take part in our alumni program to receive continued help as they work to attain long-term sobriety. If you currently manage an employee who could benefit from these services, please contact us today for more information. Not only can we help you to increase your productivity, we can help you to save a life in the process.