The issue of drug and alcohol misuse at work has always existed, adversely effecting employees’ health, work performance, conduct, and safety. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working life – and the resulting economic downturn – have heightened many of the wellbeing risk factors, such as increased emotional and financial pressures and social isolation. Employers must ensure they have a clear policy on substance misuse and we recommend that drug and alcohol misuse forms part of their overall wellbeing offering to ensure any need for disciplinary action is coupled with a preventative and supportive approach to help employees get the help they need.

Explore the research findings

This report provides an overview of current employer practice in preventing and managing drug and alcohol misuse at work. It examines why the argument for greater employer support and preventative action around drug and alcohol misuse is stronger than ever.

In addition to the report, we recommend you read our accompanying guide, line manager guidance, line manager training top tips and training scenarios to inform and support your approach to managing drug and alcohol misuse.

Key findings

The report reveals that, while most organisations have specific drug and alcohol policies, only a small minority of them provide information on sources of support for employees. However, the impact of providing support is clear. For example, our survey found that for those employers who had referred an employee to rehabilitation support, 69% had remained working for the organisation.

Key highlights from the report include:

Managing drug and alcohol misuse is an important area for employers to address

  • Just over a third of employers have disciplined someone in the past two years for alcohol misuse and just over a quarter for drug misuse.
  • Around a fifth of employers have dismissed someone in the last two years where a significant reason was drug and/or alcohol misuse.

Few employers provide line manager training and support

  • Around three-quarters of organisations have a specific drugs and/or alcohol policy, but few train line managers about their drug and alcohol policies and procedures (12% provide one-off training for line managers and 25% provide regular refresher training).
  • Just three in ten employers provide guidelines for managers on how to deal with disclosure and how to signpost to support.
  • However, investments in line manager capability were rated highly in terms of effectiveness in helping prevent drug and alcohol misuse.

Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work does not always consider employee wellbeing

  • Just over half of employers view alcohol and drug misuse as a combined performance/disciplinary and health, safety and well-being issue.
  • Around a fifth of employers see alcohol and drug misuse as mainly a performance/disciplinary issue.

Employee disclosure increases the provision of employer support  

  • Support is more likely to be provided, and disciplinary action avoided, when an employee themselves discloses a drug or alcohol problem. 
  • However, just over a quarter of employers provide information for employees about disclosing a problem with alcohol and/or drugs (27%).   

Alcohol is commonly available at official work social events 

  • Most employers (84%) said official organisation social events typically involve alcohol, with just 14% saying they don’t. 
  • Almost half of employers said having alcohol at social events generally has a positive effect.  
  • A quarter of HR professionals said some people don’t go to social events because of the expectation to consume alcohol.   

Explore these key findings on pages 7-9 in the full report, and a more in-depth discussion of these findings on pages 15-42.

Recommendations

Have a clear policy in place that prioritises genuine support for employees and their wellbeing. It should set expectations about what is acceptable as well as detail who an employee can go to if they have a problem and signpost to where they can get help.

Focus on prevention. Employers need to regularly assess workloads, stress levels and the working conditions of their staff. In addition, employers should consider drug and alcohol misuse when designing their wellbeing programme and offerings.

Train line managers so they feel capable and confident to manage and support employees. Providing on-demand resources with a key point of contact in HR can be helpful, to ensure both the employee and the line manager feel supported.

Create an environment where people know about the support available and feel able to ask for it.

Avoid fuelling a drinking culture – consider the implications for wellbeing and inclusion when planning work events. Plans should strike the appropriate balance between rewarding employees for good work and improving morale, with a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing.

Support employee rehabilitation. Providing time off for someone to get treatment or support relating to alcohol or substance misuse is important. The organisation can hopefully hang on to talented and valuable people, and the individual still has a job after seeking treatment or professional support.

To explore these recommendations in more detail, see pages 10-15 in the full report.

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