8 Signs for managers that an employee is in addiction.

It can be a manager’s worse nightmare, our employees who we trust and rely on have descended into a pattern of addiction and now it can be hard to know if we can trust them anymore. We also want to help as best we can, our employees are often people we see more than our families, they can also be our friends, but we are unsure of how to help, even if our suspicions are justified.

It is a sensitive topic, one that can really puzzle and perplex managers working at any level. Which is why with this post we want to give you some things you might watch out for if you think your employee is going through a problem with addiction.

First, we want to give you a definition of addiction, Goodman (1998) proposes the following definition of addiction in general:

“A condition in which a behavior that can function both to produce pleasure and to relieve painful affects is employed in a pattern that is characterized by two key features:

  • Recurrent failure to control the behavior; and
  • Continuation of the behavior despite significant harmful consequences”

As we can see from this definition an addiction doesn’t have to be for just substances such as drugs or alcohol, it can also be to behaviors such as gambling, gaming, social media or sex.

Either way what we are looking for here is a maladaptive pattern of use/action, which leads to a significant amount of impairment or distress. This continues despite harmful consequences such as problems in a person’s professional or working life.

Addiction affects people from all walks of life and all socioeconomic statuses. Whatever the reason a person starts the addictive behavior, tolerance and dependency can develop quickly, before the user even realizes the pattern of addiction taking hold. When tolerance becomes a full-blown addiction, it can be extremely difficult to stop the pattern of abuse.

This is where a person such as a manager or colleague may be uniquely situated to notice a change in an employee. Especially if there has been a relationship there before the addiction symptoms appeared. For the good of the employee, and for the good of the business/organisation, it can become forced upon the line manager to notice and challenge the signs of addiction in the employee.

Nonetheless, knowing what to look out for can be challenging. These 8 top things to watch out are non-conclusive if taken in isolation, but when taken together, the more that you may be seeing the more likely it is that you may be dealing with an employee struggling with addiction.

Some of our top things to look out for:

1. Absenteeism: Is your employee now frequently late or calling in sick, are they phoning you late to cancel shifts. In a repeated pattern this could be a sign that substances are taking their toll. Even repeated late returns to work from lunch could be a sign of this if matched with other signs.

2. Accidents and unusual incidents: repeated and unusually high amounts of slips, spills and breakages could be a sign of impairment. Increased forgetting to complete tasks may also be a warning sign. Are they mixing up the days of things frequently, again this could be a sign?

3. Fluctuating work performance, concentration and energy: This could be a sign that something is going on in the employee’s personal life, or indeed that there is substance abuse at play. A non-caring attitude where before there was positivity, problems with team work, an obvious depression in the employee. In this case it is wise to monitor for signs that there may be a personal life problem or a work problem affecting them equally.

4. Unpredictable mood changes: If an employee is showing unpredictability in their mood, in terms of being overly emotional or possibly being aggressive, it may help a manager to try to understand what is going on physically with their bodies. Is there some kind of chemical that they may be coming down from or are they experiencing withdrawals?

5. Changes in appearance: Has the colleague begun to come to work in the same clothes as yesterday, or in stained, dirty or tattered clothes. Has personal hygiene become an issue or do they smell like they have been drinking. If often repeated these may be a sign that something is going on with an addition.  Abrupt weight changes may also be a telltale sign.

6. Bloodshot or glazed eyes/dilated or constricted pupils: These signs can be an indicator that a person is affected by a substance or has been recently. Blood shot or glassy eyes can be a sign that an excess of alcohol was consumed the night before, however, it can also be a sign of allergies. Dilated (very large) or constricted (small) pupils may indicate certain types of drugs have been consumed.

7. Unexplained marks on the body: This could mean seeing injection marks on the body, but also a question could be raised if the employee is coming to work frequently with cuts, bumps or bruises that would indicate they have been falling over or even possibly in fights. This one could happen to anybody once or twice but again on a repeated basis it might fit with other evidence and indicate that an addiction is taking hold.

8. Sudden changes in a social network: If an employee is now associating with other employees you also have concerns over, this may be a sign of some trouble with addiction. Of course, involvement with crime or with suspicious activity around the work place can also be an indicator that an employee is now being motivated by something like an addiction. Financial issues for the employee may also fall into this category.

When you have an employee in addiction it can be very hard to know what to do, what is the right thing? Discussion can be threatening for the employee and they may feel very embarrassed and threatened, however if it comes to a head you may be left with no option but to confront them with the facts. Noticing and detailing concerns in line with the above can give you a solid information base from which to express concerns that something may be going on.

When issues come to a head, an employee may need to face the fact that their addiction is causing disruption in the office and may need to be worked on. At this point employers typically have three options, to support the staff member, to tolerate the behaviour or to terminate their employment. These latter two certainly come with their own legal and fiscal pit falls. Support may be the employers best option before terminating a contract of employment can be considered.

That is why at Abate Counselling and EAP Ltd. we provide pay as you use addictions counselling support to employees for companies across Ireland. Having an external agency on standby to provide addiction counselling for staff can ensure that once a problem is identified an employee can be supported quickly, hopefully into making steps towards recovery.

Addiction is a complicated thing and can necessitate professional help if the person feels it is out of their control. As an external agency we can gain the confidence of the employee and support them to regain some control over the problem.

In our 15 years of working in the Irish context we have helped serious numbers of employees successfully battle similar issues, this is because we believe addiction is something that can be managed, allowing people to take their lives back and return fully to work.

If you feel worried about an employee in addiction and would like to explore extending them support please feel free to contact us on: 1800 222 833, Info@abatecounselling.com.

A Company’s greatest asset is their employees, we’re the insurance.

Thanks for reading

Team Abate Counselling and EAP.