Is your business losing money from employee substance abuse?

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the problem of substance abuse in the workplace. This is defined as using any substance that impairs your clarity, functioning, or judgment and includes alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal drugs.

How substance abuse affects the workplace

Use of drink or drugs can impair alertness and accuracy; reaction times are often slowed, and attention and concentration are weakened. Substance abuse needn’t take place during work hours to have a negative impact; regular hangovers or symptoms of withdrawal can leave an employee in an unfit state to do their job. Absenteeism and increased sick leave are among the most frequent and damaging results of employee substance abuse.

Impaired ability and absenteeism affects overall productivity and efficiency. Not only is your employee not doing their job properly, but they can also lower the morale of the whole team. Substance abuse is also a health and safety issue. Serious or fatal accidents become more common in jobs involving manufacturing, construction, medical work, or driving because of substance abuse. Substance abusers are more likely to be argumentative and uncooperative, as well as often late for work, to steal from the workplace, or to sleep on the job.

Tackling the problem

It’s hard to measure the overall cost to business of substance abuse as it often goes undetected amidst general absenteeism and low productivity. Nevertheless, all statistics suggest the problem is substantial, and all businesses, no matter how small, need a clear policy on substance abuse and procedures in place to detect and manage it. This policy should make clear what is and is not acceptable behavior. There should be a fair, consistent, and transparent professional disciplinary procedure in place that respects workers’ rights to confidentiality. Managers and supervisors should be trained in spotting and handling substance abuse, and should be aware of the effects different substances have.

An awareness of how the workplace can contribute to substance abuse is also vital. Job dissatisfaction, stress, fatigue, long hours, irregular shifts, boredom, isolation, repetitious tasks, and easy access to controlled substances can all exacerbate abuse. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides drug screening and treatment referral can actually save your company money in the end.

Drug testing is a necessary part of such a program. Non-invasive testing methods such as an oral fluid lab test may be carried out pre-employment or randomly during the course of employment. Such a policy should be clearly stated in the employee contract and agreed to as a condition of employment. It’s worth noting that any company dealing with the federal government must maintain a drug-free workplace according to federal standards. Regular testing is the best way to maintain this. Other companies are increasingly adopting this policy as best practice.

The cost of substance abuse can be measured in reduced productivity, high insurance costs, high employee turnover, and poor morale. Worse, it can lead to serious accidents, lawsuits, damage to a company’s reputation, and even death. Don’t wait until it’s too late; make sure your company has a clear policy in place to tackle the issue today.

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