How should substance misuse in the workplace be managed?

October 22nd 2021 | Posted by Phil Scott

There is no doubt that the abuse of drink and drugs is a problem within the UK.

This year, the issue seems to have worsened as many people have increased their consumption of alcohol while working from home or on furlough.

Even without the increases that have happened in recent months, around 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink more than the recommended healthy limit each week. Now, according to research by Drinkaware, around one in four people who have been forced to work from home are drinking more than usual. This is a major issue for employers as it could have an adverse effect on the health of employees. It could also reduce their performance and productivity. In order to address the situation, employers need to adopt the right approach.

The importance of a proactive and supportive approach

Many employers see substance abuse as something that only needs to be addressed if it becomes a performance issue. They deal with the problem by treating it as a disciplinary matter.

The best HR managers help businesses to understand that this is not the most beneficial approach. Employers need to focus on identifying where a problem exists and providing support. This can often remove the need for disciplinary measures to be taken.

Experienced HR professionals also recognise that substance abuse can be an indicator of a disability, such as a mental health issue. When this is the case, employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments and provide appropriate support.

The commercial cost of alcohol and drug issues

While employers should be invested in taking a supportive approach to individuals from a legal and ethical point of view, they should also recognise the commercial cost of substance abuse. It costs the UK economy billions of pounds each year.

Taking a proactive and supportive approach helps employers to reduce these costs. This happens because employees get the support that they need before their issues progress to them taking lengthy sick absences and before their performance dips to an unsustainable level.

The steps that a business should take

There are several steps that top HR professionals advise businesses to take in order to manage substance abuse in a supportive and positive way.

  • Having comprehensive policies in place.

These policies should include guidance on how support can be requested and provided. It should also include clear information about reporting processes and potential disciplinary actions. Policies should also be strongly focussed on protecting the health and well-being of employees.

  • Taking a supportive approach.

The approach taken by employees and HR teams should encourage employees to be open about issues. Support must be provided in terms of factors such as time off to attend meetings and appointments with professionals. Employees must always be directed in the right way, to secure any external support that they need.

  • Ensuring that managers have the right training to be supportive.

Managers play a vital role in helping employees to deal with their substance abuse issues. With this in mind, HR managers promote the importance of providing relevant training and advice to managers. This gives them the knowledge that they need to provide good quality advice and support when it’s needed.

  • Paying careful attention to social activities

Right now, normal social activities are somewhat restricted. However, this will not always be the case. When normal social activities do return, the best HR Managers will encourage employers not to focus on alcohol-related activities. Removing an alcohol focus makes it easier for employees to reduce their alcohol consumption. It’s also more inclusive, for those who are trying to abstain from alcohol or who are not alcohol drinkers in the first place.

In summary

It appears that substance abuse could be more of an issue than ever in the UK, at least in the short term. This makes it vital for HR Managers to work with businesses to ensure that supportive, proactive, and comprehensive processes and procedures are in place, in order to effectively manage substance abuse issues.

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