The government recently announced its intention to carry out an alcohol blitz across the country this Christmas in an attempt to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder. As many of us get down to the socialising of the work Christmas party, it is a good time to be thinking about your organisation’s drug and alcohol policy, too.
If you’re not convinced you need a policy and believe you would know if any of your employees had a problem with drugs or alcohol, think again. According to Alcohol Concern, this issue costs UK industry about £3.5bn a year, so you underestimate it at your peril.
Research conducted by the Chartered Management Institute and The Priory, called ‘Managing the effects of drugs and alcohol in the workplace’, found that nearly half of surveyed managers’ organisations respond to such problems on an ad hoc basis. Worse still, only 43% of organisations have a policy at all. This means the majority of businesses are unprepared for the problems they may face.
Awareness is the key to any company policy and is particularly important in policies relating to people. The research showed that not enough is being done to make people aware of these policies, since one in seven managers does not know whether a formal drugs and alcohol policy exists in their workplace.
If policies are not implemented properly, there is little point in having them and it makes it harder to detect and tackle problems. Remember, it is those on the shop floor who are most likely to notice changes in colleagues’ behaviour, so it is essential they know a policy exists and how to use it. By giving them a clear, well-communicated procedure to follow, they have a direct route of action if they need it.
A drug and alcohol policy provides a procedure that allows you to offer appropriate assistance to individuals with a problem, while also supporting their colleagues.
Fundamentally, it can have a positive impact on your business as your workforce would be aware of what to do when drugs issues arise. At its simplest, guidance would help people recognise possible problems before they get out of control.
When developing your policy, it is important to think carefully about how you would handle a situation if it became a reality. For example, how would you approach an individual you suspected of having a drug problem? The research indicated that about 50% of managers would talk to individuals about a suspected problem, while only about 25% said they would inform the human resources department. Clearly, the best approach would be to talk to the individual in private. The implication is that managers do want to do the right thing but
need some guidance on how to go about it.
There is no single correct method of dealing with an individual suspected of alcohol or drugs misuse at work, because everybody is different and will react differently. However, by having a policy in place you remove the accusatory aspect of approaching an employee.
Signs to look out for include poor timekeeping, lack of judgement, impaired memory and confusion. Changes in personality such as sudden mood swings or overreaction to criticism and physical signs such as a loss of appetite and lack of hygiene may also indicate drug or alcohol problems. If individuals who previously showed no such signs suddenly start arriving late for work or become aggressive, you should discuss your concerns with them.
However, it is important to remember that these signs are only possible symptoms and not evidence of drug and alcohol misuse. An overworked or stressed individual may suffer similar symptoms and, while it is necessary to identify the problem, you should not use the signs above as a diagnostic tool.
Hopefully this is a problem you won’t have to face too often and if you have an effective policy, your business should not suffer. It’s not a case of accusing innocent people - let’s face it, there may be a few tired, weary people in every business after their Christmas party, but this does not mean they have drug or alcohol problems. It’s a case of using your judgement wisely and offering support when necessary - regardless of the problem.
n Christine Hayhurst is director of professional affairs at the Chartered Management Institute