3 Ways HR Can Address Alcohol Addiction

By Tim Stein

Jul. 2, 2019

More than 21 million people in the United States struggle with addiction. I used to be one of them.

After suffering several sports-related injuries, I developed an opiate addiction. And though I’m now in recovery, I remember clearly how difficult that battle was.

My story may sound out of the ordinary to some, but those 21 million struggling Americans say otherwise. And there’s a good chance that someone — or several people — at your company has battled addiction as well. As an HR leader, acknowledging that fact and taking it into account in your interactions with employees can be monumentally important to the health and well-being of your staff.

But that’s not always an easy task. Today’s American workplace is saturated with opportunities to grab a drink with co-workers, celebrate closing a huge deal over a few beers or have one cocktail too many at the annual holiday party. I believe that work and drinking should remain separate and that time spent in the office should be dedicated to productivity, but I’m aware that’s not the norm in every company culture.

For any HR leader hoping to navigate the rough terrain of alcohol in the workplace while remaining sensitive to the struggles and needs of your team, let these three principles be your guide.

Invest in Teaching Your Leadership About Addiction

Help educate the entire leadership team, not just your HR team. With 1 in 13 American adults dealing with alcohol addiction, executives and managers must grasp how prevalent this issue in the workplace.

HR can help leaders at your organization recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction so they’re prepared to help an employee who may need it. These signs can include:

  • Regular, unexplained absences or tardiness.
  • Sluggishness in the mornings.
  • Inconsistent job performance.
  • Appearing overly tired or sleep-deprived.

Leaders should know that addiction doesn’t discriminate. From lawyers to athletes to doctors and everyone in between, this disease affects every socioeconomic status. Never assume that people in your office couldn’t possibly be impacted.

Lastly, make it a priority to offer your company leaders a new perspective on addiction and destroy the typical stigma that surrounds it. Addiction is a disease, not just a bad habit or poor choice. You wouldn’t discriminate against an employee who requires time and medical treatment to recover. Dealing with someone fighting addiction shouldn’t be any different.

Give Your Employees Options

With this knowledge in mind, your company may choose to rethink how it incorporates alcohol into work-related events. Avoid pairing happy hours with huge company announcements, for example. Give all employees an easy way to opt out of events where alcohol will be present.

And of course, not every company gathering has to center itself around drinking. Instead, try to plan an equal amount of social and team building activities in which alcohol plays absolutely no part. Plan a team-building activity (axe throwing, anyone?) or take a group coffee date in the middle of the day. HR has the opportunity to get creative.

Practice a True Open-Door Policy

The most important option HR leaders can provide for their teams is the option to ask for help. Find a way to let all your team members know that your company has an open-door policy for anyone who may be struggling and that the leadership is willing to work with them in a confidential and supportive manner.

Many employees assume that termination will be the first course of action if they open up about their issues with addiction. Make it clear that their health and well-being come first and guide them toward help. This may come in the form of an employee assistance program or perhaps by connecting them with a local support group.

I’m more than lucky that my second chance at my life and career led me to American Addiction Centers, where sensitivities around drinking are always respected and where someone in recovery can remain focused on growth and success. But this is not yet the case across the country.

It’s far past time to acknowledge that addiction is real, it’s common, and there’s a good chance it’s affecting someone on your team. Let’s start to do better at offering a workplace in which everyone can thrive.

Tim Stein is the Vice President of Human Capital for American Addiction Centers (AAC). In his role, he also manages several departments, including Human Resources, Training and Development and Talent Acquisition. He is currently celebrating more than seven years in recovery.

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