If substance abuse is contributing to an employee’s poor
performance, ignoring or avoiding the issue will not help the situation. An
employee’s use of alcohol or drugs may be the root of the performance problem;
however, substance abuse on the part of someone close to the employee also could
be the source. Regardless, abuse of alcohol or other drugs inevitably leads to
costly and potentially dangerous consequences in the workplace unless action is
taken to confront the issue.
It is important to note that diagnosis of an alcohol or
other drug problem is not the job of a supervisor. However,
remaining alert to changes in employee performance and working to improve
employee productivity is a core component of every supervisor’s job. Because
substance abuse seriously affects an employee’s ability to fulfill his/her
responsibilities, supervisors play a key role in keeping a workplace alcohol and
To carry out this responsibility, a supervisor must clearly
understand a company’s drug-free workplace policy and have the ability to
identify performance problems that may be the result of alcohol and drug abuse.
Furthermore, a supervisor should be capable of making appropriate referrals to
employees in need of assistance for alcohol- or drug-related
The following performance and behavior problems are common
to many employed individuals who abuse alcohol and/or other drugs. It is
important to note that if an employee displays these symptoms, it does
not necessarily mean he or she has a substance abuse problem.
- inconsistent work quality
- poor concentration
- lowered productivity
- increased absenteeism
- unexplained disappearances from the jobsite
- carelessness, mistakes
- errors in judgment
- needless risk taking
- disregard for safety
- extended lunch periods and early
- frequent financial problems
- avoidance of friends and colleagues
- blaming others for own problems and shortcomings
- complaints about problems at home
- deterioration in personal appearance
- complaints and excuses of vaguely defined
When an employee’s performance deteriorates for whatever
reason, his/her supervisor has an obligation to intervene. The supervisor does
not need to be an expert on alcohol and drug abuse to do so because the
intervention should be focused on the employee’s performance problem.
The following principles of intervention may be followed by
supervisors who need to confront a staff member about a performance problem that
may be related to substance abuse.
- Stick to the facts as they affect work performance.
- Do not rely on memory; have all supporting documents and
- Do not discuss alcohol or drug use.
Be clear and firm
- Explain company policy concerning performance.
- Explain company drug-free workplace policy.
- Explain consequences if performance expectations are not
Be supportive, but avoid emotional involvement
- Offer help in resolving performance problems.
- Identify resources for help in addressing personal
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Policy www.dol.gov./asp