How Might Employee Addiction Be Impacting Your Business?

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By Jerry Haffey Jr.

With 23.5 million Americans addicted to drugs and alcohol across the United States, the presence of addiction in the workplace is no longer a rare exception. In fact, 25% of your employees, who are lifting heavy loads, operating machinery, crunching numbers, treating patients and the like, are either currently suffering from or dealing with a mental health or substance use problem. So why are many businesses in denial?

The word addiction evokes an immediate, negative response caused by the unfortunate stigma that surrounds the disease. The picture has only become clouded further today, due to the impact of social media and the constant glorification of the disease (no thanks to Hollywood). And while there’s an overwhelming amount of resources available to the public, it’s often hard to know exactly where to turn when addiction strikes your business.

How addiction affects businesses

While some businesses might claim that ignorance is bliss, when it comes to addiction in the workplace, the numbers don’t lie. The expensive problem is costing you and your company approximately $1,700 per employee, per year, resulting in $263 billion in lost productivity on an annual basis. That’s because these employees, who are functioning at about two-thirds of their normal capacity, are three times more likely to be late for work. They also use twice as much sick leave, totaling a loss of approximately 500 million workdays each year.

Now, if businesses think that enforcing the policy of leaving your personal problems at home really works—news flash: it doesn’t. That’s because off-the-clock addictive behaviors have around-the-clock consequences, not only for addicts but for sober employees who may care for an addict. These caregivers also are suffering, and most of the time, they suffer in silence. Therefore, it’s likely that on occasion their problems could spill over into the workplace causing an unfortunate domino effect involving a lack of concentration, unpredictable behavior, mood swings, tardiness, and absenteeism due to health-related issues.

Businesses also have to be prepared as there’s always the possibility that the company could suffer severe consequences such as legal liabilities, theft, injuries, workers’ compensation costs, and even fatalities. Employees with addiction problems are five times more likely to file workers compensation claims and have been linked to 47% of injuries and 40% of workplace fatalities.

Sadly, 67% of HR professionals believe addiction is one of the most serious issues their company faces, but only one in five HR professionals say their company proactively deals with employee addiction issues.

In order to save lives and save money, it’s imperative for businesses to start providing around-the-clock solutions for this around-the-clock situation.

What can businesses do?

Acknowledging that you very likely have individuals working in your business who are suffering from addiction, either directly or indirectly, is the vital first step to get them help and reduce addiction’s toll on your company.
You can also safeguard your business against substance abuse by holding conversations about addiction that exclude shame.

Addiction, as the opiate crisis has made clear, can affect anyone. If one of your staff members is in the midst of an alcohol or drug problem, he or she will be much more likely to seek help if you’ve set a tone free of judgment. In the end, this can help get your employee back on their feet and back to full productivity sooner rather than later—the best result for all concerned.

Implementing a robust, forward-looking Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is another effective way to let your employees know they are valued. EAPs are confidential places for employees to turn when they are troubled. Through the program, they can speak to someone who will help them acknowledge their problem and ideally arrest an emerging drug problem before it becomes a full-blown addiction.

But no matter how good a company’s EAP is, some employees will end up needing addiction treatment. Therefore, it’s important that your company health plan covers addiction treatment. Out-of-pocket costs for such treatment can be devastating.

You also may want to consider going one step further by bringing in experts to discuss addiction, or by educating your employees about drug issues in your company newsletter. Prescription pain medications are at the root of much of the opiate epidemic today. Your employees’ athletic sons or daughters may be treated with potent opiates for an injury, which could, in turn, put them at risk for addiction. Bringing this issue to an employee’s attention through an office addiction education program could spare them the devastation of having their child fall into opiate addiction, and this will ensure your employee is focused on work instead of a child at risk.

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Before you hire . . .

The best time to reduce addiction’s presence in your business is when new staff are being onboarded. The hiring process can minimize the impact of this growing problem on your business. Whether you are a large corporation or a small business, drug testing should be carried out both before and during an individual’s employment.

HR professionals should also always request background checks during the interview process. While there are no guarantees—addiction and relapse can occur at any time—drug tests will help to ensure that you are consistently hiring qualified individuals and top performing talent.

Employees typically spend more time at work than within their own home. Your company will want to convey the importance of overall health to everyone in your workforce. By adopting the programs and policies outlined here, employers can create a safe and supportive work environment that drastically reduces the costs of addiction in the workplace, promotes understanding about addiction as a treatable disease, and saves lives.

RELATED: What Are the Rules for Employee Drug Testing?

About the Author

Post by: Jerry Haffey Jr.

After honorably serving our country in Iraq, Jerry Haffey Jr. made the transition to assist others through behavioral health. Over the course of his career, he has held multiple positions within Ambrosia Treatment Center and has settled into the role of President of Business Development. Currently, Jerry oversees the marketing department, admissions department, and the Ambrosia Wellness program.

Company: Ambrosia Treatment Center
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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