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28 Mar 2024

What to consider when developing a strategy to support addictive behaviours

From gambling to consuming illegal substances, addiction can have knock-on effects in the workplace and even have health and safety implications for other workers

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Support for an employee who may be struggling with addictive behaviours can be life-changing but can ensure the safety and wellbeing of their colleagues.

Dr Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Specialist at Bupa Global and UK Insurance, says: “Misuse of substances and drugs, for instance, can have an impact on the employee's physical and mental health. In some work contexts, this could pose a safety risk.

“A gambling problem can lead to impulsive decision-making and financial harm, such as over-borrowing and large debts.”

As different forms of addiction present distinct challenges and risks, there’s no single solution. However, it’s essential to have clear company policies and support in place. Here are some key factors to consider:

1. Training and awareness

Ensure your business has clear and consistent company policies and communicate these as part of your induction process.

Alcohol or drug policies should always encourage employees to speak to their line manager or trusted colleague if they are struggling. Its focus should be on protecting team members.

According to The Health and Safety Executive, line managers and team leaders should have clear guidance on:

  • Recognising the signs of alcohol or drug use
  • An organisation’s rules around alcohol and drug use
  • What to do if they suspect an employee has a problem
  • What to do when an employee tells them they have an issue, or an employee raises concerns about a colleague.

If a line manager or team leader suspects an issue, they should:

  • Speak to the employee in private
  • Use open, non-judgemental questions to start the conversation. For example, ‘How are you feeling?’
  • Stress that the intention is to offer support, not judgement. Avoid using terms, such as alcoholic or addict
  • Outline sources of support, such as an employee assistance programme. To remove barriers, ensure you provide contact information or offer to make contact on their behalf.

2. Trust and relationships

Good relationships between line managers and their teams are important as this can help spot the signs that an employee is struggling. These can include:

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Mood swings
  • Increased absence
  • Missing deadlines or a decline in performance.

These signs do not always point towards addictive behaviours and can be caused by many reasons. However, it’s important to have a conversation with individuals in your team to identify if they are struggling and need support.

Relationships between team members can also be affected by addictive behaviours. For example, an individual may face an increased workload because of a colleague’s absence.

Dr Griffiths adds, “It’s important to remember that dependence on drugs or alcohol are recognised medical conditions and need to be treated in the right way.

“Employees should have confidence that their problems will be addressed confidentially where possible, and advised if employers are under an obligation to notify external agencies. They should also be confident their issues will be dealt with effectively and consistently.”

If an employee is struggling, they should be encouraged to ask their GP for help and support.

See more on how supporting health in the workplace can benefit your organisation.

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