Supporting your employees through drug and alcohol misuse

The majority of employers have dealt with employees with drug and alcohol problems, yet only a minority offer real help

One in five (21%) employers are failing to offer proactive support to workers on issues of drug and alcohol misuse, according to newly published research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. 

The report, Managing drug and alcohol misuse at workhighlights the need for employers to take a preventative and proactive approach to drug and alcohol misuse. Few employers currently train managers about their organisation’s drug and alcohol policies and procedures – just 12% provide one-off training for line managers and only a quarter (25%) provide regular refresher training.

Just a quarter (26%) train managers to recognise the symptoms of drug and alcohol problems or improving management practice more generally, for example, how to manage and support employees (32%). This is despite investments in line manager capability being rated highly in terms of effectiveness in helping to prevent drug and alcohol misuse.

These findings are concerning as misuse is an issue many people managers may need to deal with at some point. Just over a third (35%) of employers have disciplined someone in the past two years for alcohol misuse and just over a quarter (26%) for drug misuse. 

The majority of employers (69%) have said the most recent employee they had referred to treatment or rehabilitation support had remained working for the organisation. This suggests that employer support can have positive long-term impacts on people’s careers and for employers in retaining their staff.

However, despite the positive impacts of employer support for those in need, a significant number of organisations don’t provide paid or unpaid time off for treatment – 61% don’t provide paid time off for treatment to support staff with alcohol misuse, and 65% don’t provide it for treatment for drug misuse. Just under half (49%) don’t offer unpaid time off for treatment for alcohol misuse, and 50% don’t provide unpaid time off for drug misuse.

Investment in training and proactive support through services such as Employee Assistance Programmes or access to occupational health is particularly important at a time when 27% of employees said their alcohol consumption has increased as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions. The same percentage of employers have not provided information to employees about how to disclose problems with drugs and alcohol.

Those reporting a high workload were significantly more likely to say their alcohol consumption had increased (31%) compared to those saying their workload was about right (24%). More than a third (37%) of those who had seen a change in their caring responsibilities were significantly more likely to say their alcohol consumption had increased compared to those who hadn’t (25%).  

The impact that the pandemic has had on employee wellbeing has highlighted the importance of this conversation, says Dr Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD: “The Coronavirus pandemic and the current period of economic uncertainty could make people feel more anxious or vulnerable, which has led to concern about whether people may be more likely to use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. With around a quarter of people saying that their alcohol consumption has increased over the last few months, this has the potential to negatively impact on their work. 

“It is vitally important for organisations to recognise drug or alcohol misuse as a health, safety and employee wellbeing concern, not just a disciplinary issue. Support for people struggling with alcohol and drug misuse must be part of an organisations’ wellbeing offering. By having a clear policy in place that sets expectations about behaviour and prioritises genuine support for wellbeing, employers can create a safe environment where people feel able to ask for support. This could encourage people to seek help before a concern becomes a real issue.

“Organisations must also train line managers so they feel confident to respond appropriately to an employee disclosing a problem with alcohol or drugs, as well as guidance on how to support them to get help. Line managers are best placed to manage workloads, spot early warning signs of issues, and signpost people to support, but they need to have the training to feel confident and capable to do so effectively.”
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