CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden called the effect of excessive alcohol consumption devastating. He added, “In addition to injury, illness, disease, and death, it costs our society billions of dollars through reduced work productivity, increased criminal justice expenses, and higher healthcare costs.” The study says the economic burden on states is huge—an average of $3 billion per year.
The first step is to establish or refine your company’s drug and alcohol policy. Much of the burden lies with front-line supervisors who interact with employees every day.
Use these tips to help supervisors learn to identify and respond to problems:
- Be attentive. The sooner a problem is identified, the sooner it can be addressed. Look for job performance issues like:
—Rising accident rates,
—Increased absenteeism or tardiness,
—Decreased productivity, and
—Deteriorating coworker relationships.
- Observe. Watch closely if you begin to notice changes in an employee’s work patterns or performance. It’s not the supervisor’s job to determine the cause of the problem, but rather to observe behavior and determine the effects on job performance. Behavior changes may be related to alcohol or other drug abuse, but they can also be caused by other medical problems.
- Document. Supervisors should maintain a written record that explains the behaviors they are observing. It should include the name of those involved, the time, date, what occurred, names of witnesses, and actions taken. Also document job performance and attendance over time.
- Address problems. Once the issues have been documented, meet with the employee to discuss the situation. Talk about what you’ve observed, but don’t judge. Keep communication channels open. Confronting employees about possible alcohol use is difficult. Consider when and how to involve your human resources department, safety and health manager, or employee assistance program coordinator.
As a result of the conversation, look for improvements in job performance. If things do not change, be clear with the employee about next steps (intervention, recommendations for treatment, etc.) in keeping with your alcohol and drug policy.