Sloshed staff: Employee vices costing billions

by Cameron Edmond08 Jul 2013

Through hidden absenteeism and lost productivity, alcohol and drug use is costing Australian businesses $5.2billion a year, according to a new paper from the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF).

Phillip Collins, head of workplace services at ADF, explained that employers and HR departments do not have enough information to attribute days off or other lost productivity to the use/abuse of drugs and alcohol outside working hours.

Additionally, the paper found that 5% of workplace deaths and 4-11% of non-fatal workplace injuries in Australia were as a result of alcohol use.

Workplace stress can contribute to an increase in the use of drugs and alcohol by employees, both during and outside work hours. Contributors to workplace stress include low pay, long/irregular hours, boredom, job insecurity, dangerous work, workplace accidents and downsizing.

In addition, seemingly harmless work-related events can contribute to alcohol intake. Ritualisied ‘after work drinks’ at the end of the week may cause employees who don’t normally drink to do so regularly, for instance.

Collins explained that alcohol and drug use is seen as a difficult issue for many organisations to deal with, and un-needed emphasis is placed on individual ‘problem’ employees. Instead, Collins suggests that developing a workplace program may be more effective.

The paper highlights the additional value of implementing workplace alcohol and drug programs in impacting the community as a whole.

With most users of drugs and alcohol being employed, and many full-time employees spending most of their time at work, this provides a good environment to educate them about the broader risks. This is then likely to carry over into other facets of their lives, and influence their family and friends.

Key HR Takeaways

Although each organisation will have its own culture that will dictate the way workplace alcohol and drug programs should be structured, Collins indicates four key tenants to addressing the problem:

  • Sound, formal written alcohol and drug policy: This policy needs to be clear to all, and fit with the needs of the organisation, highlighting its specific risks.
  • Education and training: Employees need to be aware of the policies with the organisation, and understand why they are necessary – they need to be aware of the risks of harm associated with alcohol and drug use.
  • Confidential counseling and treatment services: Employees must have access to these, and should be provided with leave if they wish to attend. The financial cost and drop in morale associated with dismissing an employee can be avoided by allowing employees to seek help.
  • Ongoing evaluation: Alcohol and drug programs need to be regularly evaluated to ensure long-term effectiveness. Workplace cultures change, and these programs must adapt to reflect their needs at all times.



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