With more people working from home due to COVID-19, identifying employees who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol at work is more challenging for employers. Training managers and employees on how to spot the warning signs of drugs and alcohol in the workplace is one of the proactive steps that organizations can take to keep staff safe and productive and help individuals who may be struggling with addiction. Drug and alcohol awareness training also reinforces an organization’s policy that using drugs or alcohol at work is not allowed, no matter the work location.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, one-third of employees admit to using alcohol or drugs while working from home, according to a survey by alcohol.org, a leading provider of treatment resources. Usage is one way workers handle the stresses, fears and isolation surrounding COVID-19.
Workplace alcohol and drug use creates potential safety issues for employers and contributes to other problems, such as absenteeism, lost productivity, injuries and harassment. And the increase comes at a time when employer drug testing has been curtailed or suspended at health facilities, which have prioritized COVID testing and vaccine distribution.
Although impaired employees working from home pose fewer safety risks for organizations, they can create potentially embarrassing situations with customers and other costly problems, including presenteeism, defined by the Harvard Business Review as when employees are present at work but unable to fully perform and focus on their tasks due to an illness or other medical condition. By reducing individual productivity, presenteeism is reported to cost businesses 10 times more than absenteeism, according to a report by Global Corporate Challenge, a health and wellbeing initiative.
Here are 4 steps organizations can take to address drug and alcohol misuse by employees working remotely.
- Encourage managers and teams to use videoconferencing to check in regularly and more frequently than usual. Even through the lens of a video camera on their computer, an employee under the influence can appear glassy eyed, tired and display slurred speech. Picking up the phone for a conversation is also a good idea – the key is to communicate regularly.
- Remind staff of your organization’s substance misuse policy; what it means and everyone’s responsibility to adhere to it in all work situations — onsite, virtual or in a hybrid model.
- Ensure drug and alcohol training covers all the bases. Effective training should explain what substance misuse is, the effects it has on the body and mind, the risks it poses to the organization and its culture, how to spot the warning signs and some constructive ways to respond.
- Promote (and make easily accessible) information on employer assistance programs and other resources to help individuals manage their drug and alcohol use, as well as their mental health and wellbeing. Two good national resources are the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1‑800‑662‑HELP (1‑800‑662‑4357), and a list of treatment centers at https://indtreatment.samhsa.gov.
Drug and alcohol misuse by employees — whether they are working onsite or remotely —- poses a health and safety risk and can negatively impact work quality, productivity and an organization’s culture. In addition to encouraging supervisors and managers to frequently connect with virtual office staff members, organizations can be proactive about identifying and addressing drug and alcohol misuse by providing training on how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of a substance misuse problem and constructive ways to respond.
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