New Zealanders use alcohol and other drugs, and the chances are you will work with someone who does so in a way that impacts their ability to do their job.
If someone is impaired in the workplace they can put themselves or others at risk. Impairment can occur due to lack of sleep, stress, relationship breakdowns, emotionally difficult time, medications or alcohol and other drug use. Health and Safety legislation requires employers to ensure a safe working environment for all employees, an aspect of which is mitigating risk of impairment. In a safety critical worksite employers can legally drug test employees as the risk of serious injury or death is high.
There are things that organisations can do to support their staff to perform well in their roles, without alcohol and other drugs getting in the way.
Employee Assistance Programmes and other health and social services can help people identify what is happening and come up with a plan. Having these relationships in advance and clearly communicated to employees enables quicker and easier access to them when needed.
Different situations require flexibility. Having used alcohol and other drugs before does not necessarily mean that a person is impaired at the time, or that a person has an addictive pattern of use. Be clear about the actual impact of drug and alcohol use on work performance. Impaired performance can have serious consequences in some roles where safety and fast reaction times are paramount. However, use of alcohol and other drugs outside of work that leads to reduced productivity at work does not require the same immediate response to ensure safety.
Employees perform well when they feel supported and trusted. Creating a workplace with these characteristics can involve: having an employee wellness programme, including health benefits such as coverage for substance use problems; having regular conversations with employees about their wellbeing; providing education and clear messages about how substance use can impact their wellbeing and productivity at work.
This is another way to help increase employee productivity. Heavy handed responses to employee substance use that do not match the situation don't help employees feel like they are a valued part of the organisation. Other employees will notice how you handle their colleagues, and this will impact on them as well.
Many issues can be identified early. Clear and supportive conversations at these times can help to engage employees and prevent the situation from worsening. Support your line managers to know how to identify when things aren't going right early, and to know how to have clear and supportive conversations with their teams.
Recruitment, orientation, and training takes time and resources. It makes sense to work with existing employees to support them. Policies can be written in a way that promotes early identification of issues and flexible responses that are appropriate for the situation and prioritise keeping your staff members employed.
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