Substance use including alcohol and prescribed medication present a problem to a large proportion of the population. The work place is no exception to this.
An organisation relies on the ability of its employees to make it thrive, if the employee is not operating to his or her fullest potential then the organisations ability to deliver can be undermined.
However, while an organisation needs to be sensitive to its requirements it needs to recognise that the individual with the problem will require specialist and sensitive support. Substance misuse is recognised as a very real emotional and physical condition and as such organisations have a responsibility to cater to not only its needs but the needs of the employee in keeping with policy and employment law.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is an executive non-department public body of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom states clearly in its guidelines that:
People who misuse drugs should be given the same care, respect and privacy as any other person.
Do Working Professionals and Companies need support?
20% of health services resources are spent on individuals with alcohol related issues. This tells us that approximately 1 in 5 adults consume alcohol to a degree that suggests it is not simply ‘social’.
The drug scene that includes the use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstacy, speed, cannabis, crack and ‘legal highs’ is growing.. We can no longer are no longer in a position to say that substance use, in whatever form, does not affect us. It is also easy to say that problematic drug and alcohol use affects:
- the homeless
- the unemployment
- the socially excluded the disadvantaged
Drugs and alcohol are one of the obvious ways professionals use to cope with the:
STRESS OF WORK!
The costs of substance misuse on the economy
The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) is a charity that aims ‘to educate, preserve and protect the good health of the public’. Referring to the cost of alcohol on the economy IAS recognises that identifying a real cost is extremely difficult. Figures range from a staggering £20 billion to £55 billion. A report IAS refers to is from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) that estimates the cost to the economy of ‘alcohol related harm’ as being ‘£12.6 billion at 2008/9 prices’. That cost is divided between healthcare costs, crime & anti-social behaviour and employee absenteeism.
It is important to note that the aforementioned cost of ‘alcohol related harm’ does not include ‘alcohol related deaths and unemployment associated with alcohol harm’.
The NHS Confederation: the voice of NHS leadership 2010: issue 193, made a startling statement with regards to alcohol and its related impact:
‘Consumption of alcohol in the UK has increased by 19 per cent over the last three decades. Recent reports indicate that 10.5 million adults in England drink above sensible limits and around 1.1 million have a level of alcohol addiction. Alcohol is the third leading cause of disease burden in developed countries and, as a result, the cost of providing alcohol-related services is escalating. The burden on the NHS will be unsustainable if this continues’.
Obviously this issue does not simply impact on the ‘unemployed’, it is endemic within society itself and is present in all social classes, in all social groups and in any occupation.
The British Medical Association (BMA) goes as far as to say:
‘…….Alcohol and drug use increases the risk of problems in the workplace such as absenteeism, presenteeism, low productivity and inappropriate behaviour.
It can impair a person’s performance at work through poor decision making and impaired reaction times causing lost productivity, inferior goods or services, errors and accidents.
It is evident that individuals in employment are more likely to drink frequently compared to those who are unemployed.
Individuals in managerial and professional occupations are likely to drink more frequently than those in routine and manual occupations.
Certain working situations and conditions are associated with use of alcohol and illicit drugs such as shift or night work, travel away from home, working remotely, business meals, poor communications and job stress.’
The BMA are suggesting clearly that the employed, and the higher earner may be at more risk than individuals with less earning capacity or unemployed. In a world of alcohol, prescribed medication, ‘legal highs’ and illegal drugs, the working population is vulnerable to developing a problem, while at the same time the support available to them is less apparent.
(Human Resources) ‘HR Magazine’ emphasises this point when it states:
‘The TUC estimates that between 3% and 5% of all work absences are due to alcohol, which costs the UK economy nearly £2 billion a year. Recent research from drug and alcohol screening provider Concateno reveals that 1 in 30 employees (3.23% of the 1.6 million UK employees it tested in 2011) has drugs in their system at any one time in the workplace. If that figure were extrapolated for the UK population, it would equate to 940,000 people. A 2012 survey by law firm Blake Lapthorn, found that most organisations think the use of alcohol (61%) and drugs (54%) by employees outside the office has an adverse effect on their work.’
HR Magazine is also clear that there are huge health and safety risks from substance misuse, in all its forms, in the workplace. They recommend that organisations and companies have to be vigilant and have appropriate support systems and referral pathways in place to protect the employee, the company or organisation and of course the general public.
Support in developing an organisational strategy to managing substance misuse in the workplace
• Support in developing policies and procedures to address substance misuse in the workplace
• Training for Human Resource Managers, Occupational Health Managers and General Managers in : substance use; its impact on the work force; how to work with challenging staff behaviour; and sign posting employees to appropriate services