4 Strategies for Dealing with an Alcoholic Employee

Did you know that alcohol use disorder (AUD), otherwise known as alcohol abuse or just plain old alcoholism, rose by a staggering 49% in the U.S. during the first decade of this millennium?

And did you also know, according to a study published last year, that one in eight U.S. adults presently meet the diagnostic criteria for an AUD, and that statistic basically means we’re in the middle of another public health crisis?

Now, look at it this way…

In 2018, around 128.57 million U.S. citizens were in full-time employment.

And that means just over 16 million of these workers are currently suffering from a clinically recognized case of alcohol use disorder (probably in silence, and certainly trying their damnedest to ensure their boss doesn’t have a clue). Something we recommend is the use of an alcohol breathalyzer. With the help of Soberlink’s breathalyzer your family members or employer can stay up to date of your progress.

In other words, if you employ 40 people full-time, you can pretty much guarantee that 5 of them have a major issue with alcohol, one that may very well come to light, and so need to be dealt with for the good of the individual concerned and the business… by you.

I was once one of those individuals, an alcoholic employee, and later, by some twist of fate (well, a promotion really), one of those managers who had to deal with an alcoholic employee. Yes, looking back, I was, in the space of maybe 18 months, both sides of the same coin. For many, the same dilemma.

More and more firms in the U.S. are looking to both drug and alcohol testing (voluntary or otherwise) to clinically confirm substance use and possible abuse, as opposed to managers just relying on their own intuition.

So just exactly how should you, as a manager or the company boss, approach the situation of an employee either testing positive, being cited or whistle-blown by work colleagues, or even just coming to you one day and admitting they’re struggling with an AUD?

Before we begin, be under no illusions. Alcoholism is medically defined as a “chronic relapsing brain disorder.” It can be fatal. No-one wishes to be an alcoholic. It’s not a lifestyle choice or a simple lack of willpower. Sufferers of this disorder are able to recover through abstinence – they just need the help and support of those around them, including you. Finding the treatment they need is pivotal. For me, that was a Boise alcohol rehab, over in Idaho, one that has now enabled me to remain clean and sober for a good few years now.

So, here are your “4 Strategies for Dealing with an Alcoholic Employee” to help guide you…

#1. Know Your Responsibilities

If you wish to put yourself in the best possible position to assist a colleague who is suffering from an AUD, by putting both their and the company’s needs at the forefront of anything else, know exactly what your responsibilities are (regardless of whether you are their boss or manager). However, remember you are not a qualified clinician and so cannot diagnose anything yourself.

Your basic responsibilities (in your supervisory role of employees) are as follows:

  • Assigning / appraising work and performance
  • Approving or disapproving leave requests
  • Taking any necessary or corrective disciplinary action when either performance or conduct suffers, and
  • Referring your employees to your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

It is important that you are aware that the most effective way to get an alcoholic to undergo treatment is to advise them that their employment is under threat.

#2. The Employee Interview

Prior to interviewing the employee regarding the issue of either performance or conduct (or both), it is highly advisable to refer the employee to the EAP. You are not officially diagnosing anything by doing this – you are simply recognizing the alcohol may be a factor in the problem. By speaking with an EAP counselor, you can develop a joint strategy for confronting the employee during the interview, as you will need to. Furthermore, gather the appropriate evidence prior to arranging the meeting.

At the interview, you need to address the particular issues with the employee and advise them that they should follow the guidance given by the EAP as regards to the appropriate treatment required. You also need to advise them that refusing the help given through the EAP will certainly not count in their favor if these issues are not resolved and that further disciplinary action may be taken.

#3. Staging an “Intervention”

In terms of dealing with an alcoholic or another substance abuser who is in denial of their disorder or refuses treatment, you can organize the staging of an “intervention.” An intervention consists of gathering the employee with their significant others, eg, yourself as their employer, their spouse or partner, other family, colleagues and friends, and with the presence of the EAP counselor, who each will speak to them about their need for treatment, and how the disorder has affected them personally.

Be warned: This may well be an emotional and powerful event, and should not be conducted without an addiction professional present.

#4. Be (and Remain) Supportive

Being supportive of a fellow colleague in addiction treatment is a very human thing to do, but it really needs to continue beyond that treatment, be it as a rehab resident or as-as someone attending a similar facility as a patient undergoing an Intensive Outpatient Program).

Once treatment has concluded, the employee may need to be transferred to a less stressful or demanding position, and they may also need either paid or unpaid leave to continue less intensive treatment. Always follow up with informal interviews as to their continued wellness.

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