Drug and alcohol abuse ‘a health concern, not just disciplinary issue’


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Employers should treat drug or alcohol misuse as a health, safety and wellbeing concern and not just a disciplinary issue, the CIPD has said after it found one in five are failing to support employees.

The need for investment in training, support programmes and access to occupational health advice around drug and alcohol misuse is greater than ever, with 27% of employees admitting their alcohol consumption increased as a result of the coronavirus restrictions.

Those reporting a high workload were significantly more likely to say their alcohol consumption had increased (31%) compared with those saying their workload was about right (24%), the YouGov survey of more than 2,000 workers found.

Dr Jill Miller, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the period had made people feel more anxious and vulnerable and many could be using alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism.

“Support for people struggling with alcohol and drug misuse must be part of an organisations’ wellbeing offering. By having a clear policy in place that sets expectations about behaviour and prioritises genuine support for wellbeing, employers can create a safe environment where people feel able to ask for support. This could encourage people to seek help before a concern becomes a real issue,” she said.

The CIPD also surveyed 787 senior HR decision makers on the steps they took to prevent drug and alcohol misuse and support those affected by it. Only 26% trained managers to recognise the symptoms of a drug or alcohol problem, while just 32% trained line managers in supporting employees experiencing it.

Employees were also likely to be unaware of how to disclose a problem with alcohol or drugs, with only 27% of organisations providing information around how they could inform them.

More than a third (35%) of firms had disciplined someone in the past two years for alcohol misuse and a quarter for drug misuse.

The findings have been published alongside CIPD guides on managing drug and alcohol misuse at work and how to proactively support employees.

Miller said: “Line managers are best placed to manage workloads, spot early warning signs of issues, and signpost people to support, but they need to have the training to feel confident and capable to do so effectively.

“Organisations must also train line managers so they feel confident to respond appropriately to an employee disclosing a problem with alcohol or drugs, as well as guidance on how to support them to get help.”

The findings also showed some employers were supporting staff with a drug and alcohol problem effectively: 69% said the most recent employee they had referred to treatment or rehabilitation had remained working for their organisation.

This week, London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey called for every business in the capital with more than 250 employees to routinely test workers for illegal substance use, with the results being made public.

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