| Every time we read a newspaper, magazine or turn on the radio or television we are hit with stories about some celebrity, star athlete, politician or town folk hero using some sort of drug. Unfortunately, the waste industry is not immune to the diseases of drug and alcohol abuse. Substance abuse is as widespread as any other disease in this nation; and, addiction statistics represent real people in our communities, homes and businesses. Like all illnesses, the symptoms must be recognized before proper treatment can begin. Employers are in a great position to assist. That is why I would like you to consider ways to help employees who may have a problem with substance abuse. There is definitely mutual benefit that can be attained. Ultimately, you may save a life.|
When there is a substance abuser working for your company, the business is at risk. Productivity will probably suffer. Other employees will suffer as they pull more than their share of the workload. Compared to other employees, the addict is more likely to steal company property, or be involved in accidents, or disappear without warning. Without your suspicion, an addict may be paid for hundreds of wasted man-hours each year. Dependent upon the business, these factors may result in lost customers, lawsuits and overall employee dissatisfaction. According to statistics complied by the National Institutes on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 10 percent of America’s workforce has a substance abuse problem. If those numbers are accurate, the likelihood of having at least one person with a substance abuse problem on your payroll is fairly high. Having a clearly defined workplace policy coupled with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be your best defense and your employee’s best help.
A workplace policy on substance use and/or abuse in your place of business should be in writing and signed as part of the hiring process. It may seem obvious that an employee may not drink or do drugs on the job; however, the policy serves as a notice to the employee and a protection to the employer. Not only should there be a policy on substance abuse, but also one on performance criteria. If performance criteria is not met (after employee counseling), an employer can more easily present the option of entering the EAP in the instance of substance abuse. The other less desirable option is permanently firing the person. If the latter becomes necessary, your company will be legally protected according to the signed policies.
Employers should publicize an EAP or the availability of an outside counseling service. Completion of a treatment program should be a clear condition of re-employment; and, re-employment should be a secure part of the deal. Sending the materials to the families of each newly hired employee may be a good idea. It will take the family, friends, and the employer together to help a person with a chemical dependency to clean up. The job may be keeping the person grounded and their families fed. Help will be more readily sought when the addicted person is presented with an opportunity to clean up while preserving his or her job.
Recognition of addictive behavior is the employer’s first task; although, it is not always a simple one. Many addicts function reasonably well for years before they show signs of degeneration. Absenteeism, increased health-care costs, and anti-social behavior are common signs that there is a problem. The employee may develop a pattern of late arrivals and/or early departures from work. He or she may be seeking medical treatment for liver dysfunction, psychiatric service or prescription drugs. Mood swings and a steady withdrawal from colleagues both indicate underlying problems worth investigating.
Be aware that co-workers sometimes act as “enablers” when it comes to substance abusers. As an employer, you must try to be aware of when employees are picking up the slack for someone. Co-workers tend to keep knowledge of substance abuse very quiet to protect a peer. You should encourage employees to come forward when they see a potential problem. They are more likely to do that if there is a treatment program that will help the person with the addiction. The addict needs to learn how much suffering he or she has caused, whether it be at home or at work. Then they need to know that help is available.
Psychological problems may lead to or be the result of substance abuse. Employers need to recognize that aspect of chemical addiction. While that is true, it is just as important to realize that counseling on that level should be left to professionals. As an employer, an intervention should focus on job performance, not psychoanalysis. Your job is to show the employee where to find help.
It is my belief that people with addictions to harmful substances are in desperate need of help. One seeks the aid of addictive chemicals only when there appears to be no other resource. It is our responsibility as members of this society to help each other where we can. Leading an employee on the path towards sobriety will surely help your business; but, it may also be the one thing that saves a human being from destruction.