Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Working Alcoholics Cause Headaches for Companies

/PRNewswire/ -- April is Alcohol Awareness Month and one way companies are getting involved is with public awareness campaigns about workplace alcoholism. The cost of alcoholism and other drug addictions in the U.S. workforce exceeds $100 billion a year, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI). Part of Alcohol Awareness Month is educating companies in identifying the signs of an alcoholic and help problem drinkers.

"Most people wrongly assume that if an alcoholic employee does not drink at work there is no harm to the company since the abuse takes place on his/her own time. But damage does occur because alcoholics have reduced mental function, distorted perception, poor judgment and performance, even during work hours when they are not drinking," explains Arthur Jackson, author of "Raise the Bottom: How to Keep Secret Alcoholics from Damaging Your Business."

"A job masks the problem since a common myth is that the typical alcoholic is unemployed. Yet studies show over 85 percent of active alcoholics are functional and employed. Alcoholism in the workplace is hidden in plain sight, virtually affecting every business. Because of the stigma of alcoholism, people prefer to see the cause of problems as competition, cash flow, bad management, weak economy -- anything but alcoholism," Jackson says.

Alcoholism is progressive and work performance declines in the middle and later stages of the disease. That is why it's important to know how to identify alcoholics early to protect the business. "Once alcoholism takes hold, the alcoholic has less and less control over his willpower and behavior. He doesn't understand what is happening to him," says Jackson.

Jackson says that alcoholic behaviors to watch for include:
-- Frequent tardiness and absences, excuses for missing work.
-- Sloppy work, missed deadlines, declining performance.
-- Strained relationships with coworkers and confused thinking.
-- An inability to admit mistakes.
-- Avoiding certain people, including managers and supervisors.

"Employers are in a unique position to help the possible alcoholic employee. They must make sure problem drinkers fully experience the consequences of their behavior so that not drinking looks like a better approach to life," says Jackson. The threat of a job loss is one of the strongest leverage points that can influence an alcoholic to seek treatment.

"The first thing we can do to help an active alcoholic is to stop enabling," said Jackson. "Since alcoholics are often receptive to help when there is an accumulation of negative consequences -- a bottom -- then we do them a favor by letting them fully experience those consequences. This helps to raise the bottom so they seek recovery sooner."

Recommendations for dealing with an employee with signs of alcoholism include:

-- Make and keep the possible alcoholic accountable.
-- Don't "lower the bar" for him or her by shifting responsibilities or
assigning tasks to others.
-- Don't do for the alcoholic what he should do for himself.
-- Don't put favorable spins on situations. Don't lie, cover up, or make
excuses for the alcoholic's behavior or results.

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