April 10, 2024

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Addictions – Costly at Work

Alcohol, drugs, gambling as well as other addictions have a significant impact on people’s lives at home and within the workplace. According to the Council on Addictions and Compulsive Disorders, the five primary addictions are work, food, sex, gambling and chemical addictions. Some of these chemical addictions include alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs, antidepressants and even caffeine. Another addiction that is rising in the workplace includes internet and technology addiction. Today, adrenalin addiction is also becoming more widely discussed with its detrimental effects on people’s personal health and professional endeavours.

Research indicates that workplace substance abuse is on the rise. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) defines workplace substance abuse as “the use of a potentially impairing substance to the point that it adversely affects performance or safety at work.” Employee alcohol and drug-related problems impacts on absenteeism, poor work performance, on-going health problems of the affected employee, industrial accidents, and significant losses in productivity. Many employers require drug testing as part of their pre-employment assessment process, and may include periodic random drug testing and for-cause and post-accident drug and alcohol testing as part of their company’s workplace substance abuse program. Problems related to alcohol and drug abuse cost American businesses roughly $81 billion in lost productivity yearly (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services).

A Boston University study found that low level alcohol consumption than heavy drinking causes more problems at work. The Research Institute on Addictions (New York) found that employees are nearly twice as likely to call in sick the day after they consume alcohol. Co-workers have stated that they are affected by the ‘second-hand’ effects of the alcohol use of others via being injured or having to redo work or cover for the employee.

Other addictions can impact on the workplace include gambling, sex, and the Internet. For example, an employee who has a gambling problem might use the telephone to call bookmakers or repeatedly borrow money from co-workers. This behaviour can escalate to embezzlement, defrauding customers or stealing stock (merchandise). Employees who may suffer from sexual addictions may struggle to focus on their day-to-day responsibilities or have a tendency to sexually harass co-workers. Internet addicts can be very costly to the organization as employees spend more time ‘surfing’ the web than tending to work matters. More recently, people are becoming more addicted to their mobile phone; hence, the time taken before at work on responding to personal emails has now been replaced by text-messaging while on the job.

The disease of addiction is multifactorial, having genetic, psychological, physical and spiritual components. It is complicated to pinpoint why certain people have a tendency to display addictive behaviours, with recent research indicating a genetic component in the form of a defective gene for the Dopamine D2 receptor. Research has also supported that addictive behaviour is linked to poor self esteem and other psychological and emotional dysfunctions. There may be particular workplace factors that impact or trigger an individual’s use of alcohol, drugs and other addictions which include the workplace culture, boredom, high stress, competitiveness, arguments between employees, long hours or irregular shifts, and pressure.

Research from the Chartered Management Institute indicated that almost 50 percent of managers would find it difficult identifying signs of drug and alcohol misuse. Therefore, managers should be educated in understanding various addictive behaviours in order to identify employees who already display signs of abuse or addiction or those who may be at-risk. It is in the company’s interest to be able to identify workers with addiction issues and also make addiction treatment easily accessible. The Office of Ontario’s Auditor General found that there is a 565 percent return on investment for making addiction treatment easily accessible to employees.

Workplace prevention programs that look beyond the individual and focus on the physical and cultural factors in the workplace that impact on the employee’s health tend to be very beneficial. The workplace environment should encourage employees to safely explore their issues and provide outlets to seek information. Though it may not change one’s behaviour, there is merit in providing information which assists the employee in understanding the problems associated with various addictions in the workplace. These are sometimes offered as part of the workplace health promotion program along with exercise, weight loss, and stress management seminars and courses.

It is best to have a multi-faceted approach in managing drug, alcohol and other addictions in the workplace. By utilizing numerous strategies, the potential to reduce related issues to addictions may increase when selected and implemented appropriately. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have been shown to impact on the decline of work-related accidents, workers’ compensation claims, lost work time, and absenteeism as well as increase productivity.

Establishing workplace policy and controls, especially addressing alcohol and drug issues, may challenge the organization and be developed in an ad hoc manner. Workplace drug policies, which are common, should involve consultation with all stakeholders, apply to all employees, be organization -specific, be comprehensive, and include instructions and procedures for responding to drug-related incidents. Additionally, the organization should consider drug testing as a potential, yet complex option.