Today, workplace cultures are inundated with alcohol. Coworking spaces offer “perks” like beer on tap, companies tout flashy open-bar holiday parties, and bosses reward direct reports with happy hours and free drinks. Workplace drinking has become the norm.
However, there’s a darker side to the growing acceptance of alcohol as a common workplace occurrence. Alcohol is the most regularly used addictive substance in America. With 1 out of every 12 adults suffering from an alcohol abuse or dependency issue, there is a good chance that someone — or several people — at your workplace has battled addiction.
Company leaders and HR teams must acknowledge alcoholism in the workplace and understand that some well-intentioned choices to reward staff and create fun company cultures may actually be hurting employees. Here are three ways you may be putting your employees in danger:
1. Offering Alcohol as a Workplace Reward
Tough day at the office? Let me grab you a beer from the fridge! You just nailed that presentation? Come to my office and we’ll pop some champagne!
These are seemingly innocent actions, but have you considered who in your workplace might be struggling?
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. This disease touches every walk of life and every socioeconomic level, from lawyers to athletes to doctors to your next-door neighbor. Never assume everyone who struggles will fit a preconceived stereotype, and be mindful of compensating hard work with alcohol. What you see as a reward, others might see as a trigger.
Instead, show appreciation through other means: Send a note of gratitude to an employee or comment publicly on a job well done. Plan a team-building activity (axe throwing, anyone?), or take a group coffee date in the middle of the day. Get creative!
2. Incorporating Alcohol Into Mandatory Business Functions
American Addiction Centers conducted a survey on substance use in the workplace and found that 66 percent of people admitted they have consumed alcohol during work hours.
What employees do on their own time is their prerogative, but you run into trouble when drinking becomes part of required workplace activities. Keep alcohol out of meetings and other workplace operations.
3. Requiring Long Hours to Get the Job Done
Occupations with the highest rates of alcohol use have two other factors in common: high stress and long hours. Stress is considered a significant factor in not only the beginning of alcohol abuse, but also in relapse. Employers are a part of this equation and can help to mitigate alcohol use in the workplace by establishing reasonable working hours and incorporating healthy breaks.
Minimize stress by stocking the cabinets with healthy snacks, asking employees to go home if you notice they are working too late, or scheduling time for your team to eat lunch together and unplug. Because we live in a society of workaholics, some companies are even mandating recurring scheduled vacation.
Make it a priority to offer your company leaders a new perspective on addiction and break the typical stigma that surrounds it. Addiction is a disease, not a bad habit or poor choice. You wouldn’t discriminate against an ill employee who needs time and medical treatment to recover. Supporting someone struggling with addiction shouldn’t be any different.
Establish an open-door policy under which employees understand they will not be judged if they are struggling. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for how to do this. You have to build strong relationships with employees and establish a reputation for being supportive. In addition, offer trainings to all managers about substance use in the workplace so they feel prepared should the situation arise.
It is far past time to acknowledge that addiction is real, it’s common, and there’s a good chance it affects someone in your workplace. By focusing on educating company leaders, providing employees with healthier options for work functions, and creating a supportive atmosphere, you can establish a workplace where everyone can thrive.
Tim Stein is the VP of human capital at American Addiction Centers.