How to help staff struggling with addiction | HR blog

Published on October 11, 2021 by Gemma Hart

If one of your employees was struggling with an addiction, how could you help them? HR professional Gemma Hart outlines how to recognise the signs and help staff overcome addiction to be healthier and happier in and outside of the workplace.

Business owners and senior members of staff have a duty of care to their employees and part of that is being able to spot the signs that something’s wrong. By having an understanding of the signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties and addiction, you’re better equipped to support staff during difficult times and help them get through their addiction.

Unfortunately, there’s still stigma and shame surrounding addiction that can make people struggling feel like they can’t share their situation with others. But making staff feel safe and creating a culture of support can help employees dealing with substance abuse problems to feel as though they can turn to colleagues for help.

4 ways to support staff struggling with addiction

With these tips, you can help staff members struggling with addiction and minimise the impact it has on their health and wellbeing, as well as their role in the company.

1. Know the warning signs of addiction

Know the warning signs of addiction

Before you can help someone, you need to know what to look for in those struggling. The first obvious red flag is more days off than they usually take, for no real reason, as well as difficulty focusing or concentrating at work, noticeable changes in their physical appearance, and appearing anxious or fearful for no reason. Unexplained changes in their personality or mood, impaired coordination, and getting into trouble outside of work can also be signs that something is wrong.

If you’ve spotted several of these signs, talk to the individual privately and express empathy rather than blame or accusing them of anything. Make sure you’re approaching the conversation with facts, rather than assumptions though – for example, saying that you’ve noticed a smell of alcohol rather than accusing them outright of having a drinking problem.

2. Relinquish control

Relinquish control

It’s tempting to want to take control of the situation and fix it, but this approach can lead to a breakdown of trust between you and your employee. When it comes to helping someone with addiction, while the actions no doubt come from a place of care and wanting to help, they can feel controlling to the person struggling, and that can make the situation worse.

You can’t force someone to change their behaviour – you can only support them through the stages of addiction and be there to help them in times of need.

3. Create flexible work schedules

Create flexible work schedules

There are plenty of resources for people dealing with substance abuse problems, from groups that can help with talking through what’s causing the issue with like minded individuals, to one-to-one counselling or even rehab centres. Some people may feel more comfortable with remote therapy sessions, such as via virtual appointments, while others might prefer the community aspect of programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

But in order for employees to attend these sessions and seek the help they need, a flexible work schedule is essential. As an employer, make sure that staff know that you’ll support them through difficult times by adapting their work schedule to accommodate appointments or rehab sessions, as this can make a huge difference to employees and their ability to tackle their addiction successfully.

4. Be mindful of replacement addictions

Be mindful of replacement addictions workaholism

In many cases, people struggling with addiction do so because they have addictive personalities. This can lead them to replace one addiction with another, particularly if they’re going through rehab for their substance abuse problem.

While it may seem as though being more productive and attentive at work is a positive way to channel that mindset and addictive behaviour, the opposite is true – it can have a negative effect on their progress and lead to poor mental and physical health. If you have noticed that they may have replaced one addiction with workaholism as a way of dealing with their addiction, encourage them to take regular breaks and use their annual leave to focus on personal responsibilities and family time.

Learn more: What are the mental health benefits of staff holidays?

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Final thoughts on supporting staff with addiction

Addiction of any kind can have a huge impact on the physical, emotional and mental health of an individual. It can also affect their ability to work well and achieve their best. As an employer, you want every member of the team to be as healthy and happy as possible, but you also need them to be working to their strengths and performing well in their role – not just for their team, but also for the company as a whole.

Educating yourself on the signs of addiction and creating a compassionate work environment that fosters openness and trust can help employees feel supported, whatever they’re facing, and can really help staff who may be struggling with addiction.

It’s also important that, in addition to maintaining confidentiality and encouraging them to seek professional help, companies are able to adapt to the needs of their staff so that they can access the resources available to them in order to overcome their addiction.

Read more from the myhrtoolkit blog

Improving employee mental health at work

Compassionate leave: a guide to the law - and doing the right thing

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Written by Gemma Hart

Gemma Hart is an independent HR professional working remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles but now turns her focus towards connecting with a wider community and sharing her thoughts and advice on workplace wellness and engagement within companies.

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