Alcohol and drug abuse by employees cause many expensive problems for business and industry ranging from lost productivity, injuries, and an increase in health insurance claims.
Problems of Substance Abuse in the Workplace
In addition to deaths and accidents, absenteeism and loss of production, other problems that alcohol and drug abuse can cause on the job include:
- Tardiness/sleeping on the job
- Hangover or withdrawal affecting job performance
- Poor decision making
- Loss of efficiency
- Lower morale of co-workers
- Increased likelihood of having trouble with co-workers/supervisors or tasks
- Preoccupation with obtaining and using substances while at work, interfering with attention and concentration
- Illegal activities at work including selling illicit drugs to other employees
- Higher turnover
- Training of new employees
- Disciplinary procedures
Research has shown that several factors can contribute to alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace. Factors that can encourage or discourage workplace substance abuse include:
- Workplace culture and acceptance of misuse of substances
- Workplace alienation
- Availability of alcohol and drugs
- Existence and enforcement of workplace substance abuse policies
The culture of the workplace can play a large role in whether drinking and drug use are accepted and encouraged or discouraged and inhibited. Part of this culture can depend on the gender mix of employees.
In predominantly female occupations research shows that both male and female employees are less likely to have substance abuse problems compared to employees of both genders in male-dominated occupations.
Studies have found that male-dominated occupations create heavy drinking cultures in which employees drink to build solidarity and show conformity. Therefore, these occupations have higher rates of alcohol- and drug-related problems.
Any industry or organization can be affected by workplace alcoholism, but research shows it is prevalent in these industries: food service, construction, mining and drilling, excavation, installation, maintenance, and repair.
Research shows that the job itself can contribute to higher rates of employee substance abuse. Work that is boring, stressful or isolating can contribute to employees’ drinking. Employee substance abuse has been linked to low job autonomy, lack of job complexity, lack of control over work conditions and products, boredom, sexual harassment, verbal and physical aggression, and disrespectful behavior.
The availability and accessibility of alcohol can influence employee drinking. More than two-thirds of the 984 workers surveyed at a large manufacturing plant said it was “easy” or “very easy” to bring alcohol into the workplace, to drink at workstations, and to drink during breaks. In cultures where alcohol is prohibited, drinking on the job and drinking, in general, is decreased significantly.
The level of supervision on the job can affect drinking and drug misuse at work rates. A study of evening shift workers, when supervision was reduced, found that employees were more likely to drink at work than highly supervised shifts.
Casual Drinkers Are a Problem, Too
Remarkably, research shows it is the social drinkers, not the people with alcohol dependence or problem drinkers, who are responsible for most of the lost productivity, according to a Christian Science Monitor article, specifically tying the hangover issue to production in the workplace.
This study also found that it was managers, not hourly employees, who were most often drinking during the workday. And 21% of employees said their own productivity had been affected because of a co-worker’s drinking.
When the issue of workplace substance abuse is addressed by establishing comprehensive programs, it is a “win-win” situation for both employers and employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
A study of the economic impact of substance abuse treatment in Ohio found significant improvements in job-related performance:
- 91% decrease in absenteeism
- 88% decrease in problems with supervisors
- 93% decrease in mistakes in work
- 97% decrease in on-the-job injuries
Companies and employers, large and small, can adopt a workplace substance abuse policy that will reduce the loss of productivity and provide a safer work environment for all.
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