If we’ve learned anything from the great resignation over the past year and a half, it’s that treating employees well by voicing advocacy and support for mental health is not only a crucial component to the long-term success of a company — it’s non-negotiable. Though ‘workplace wellness’ has been a topic of concern simmering for years, the workforce had no choice but to reckon with the idea of upending work/life balance as we know it as the pandemic created new norms around productivity and wellness, beckoning leaders to approach a shift in workplace culture by prioritizing the wellbeing of their employees. What the pandemic also created was a serious uptick in alcohol consumption; since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen that alcohol consumption has risen 23 percent. This staggering statistic exacerbates a silent danger the workforce has been grappling with for years; how to ensure an alcohol-free workplace agnostically.
In an effort to prioritize workplace wellness, many companies are offering mental health services and paid leaves of absence while others upped the ante on gym memberships and healthy snack alternatives at the office. While HR perks are seemingly convenient and at times an effective strategy as it relates to employee retention, there is a need for long-term policy and protocol change to protect employees’ mental, emotional and physical safety. Yes, the pandemic was a catalyst to a seismic shift in workplace culture; but before we can cultivate wellness in our workplaces, we need to take a closer, harder look at the pain points. An issue that demands more attention now than ever is alcohol use and intoxication in the workplace-a survey conducted in 2020 from alcohol.org found that one third of workers admitted to drinking or using drugs while at work since the onset of the global pandemic. It’s also been reported that 21 percent of workers have said they were put in danger, injured, had to redo a project or work extra hours due to a colleague’s drinking. So what can executive and HR leaders do to not only circumvent this issue but also promote a positive work environment?
With the addition of daily COVID checks and vaccine mandates in the workforce, employers also need to consider the risk they assume if any of their employees come into work under the influence. According to the 2021 Alcohol and Drug Foundation report, alcohol use contributes to 11% of workplace accidents and injuries, and alcohol-related absenteeism costs companies around $2 billion each year.
There is a clear need for an agnostic tool to track alcohol use; and it isn’t for employers to use as a trap. An alcohol detection device that is used routinely on all employees creates a non-discriminatory safeguard to help ensure safety in a work environment, in turn significantly decreasing the risk of liability issues and fatal accidents.
Policy Changes to Promote Health & Safety at Work
Drug testing is the current preferred method of testing for intoxication across various industries. Interestingly enough, drug testing accounts for all illicit substances with the exception of perhaps the most accessible and one of the most mind-altering substances; alcohol. Given that alcohol has been around for centuries and the risks and dangers of alcohol use are ingrained in us from a young age, it feels shocking that testing employees for alcohol intoxication before entering the work environment is not commonplace. We have now seen COVID-19 testing become a new norm for most offices and industrial work environments, but what about testing for employee intoxication on the same, routine basis? Most companies rely on an honor system to ensure that their employees are alcohol-free in the workplace, but the honor system only works if everyone is 100% transparent, 100% of the time. Employees are well aware of the various repercussions they can face if they enter their workplace intoxicated, but who’s checking? Unless a person has alcohol on their breath or is showing visible signs of intoxication, it’s highly unlikely that someone will call that person out on a hunch. It would also seem reasonable that not every employee would feel comfortable in voicing these concerns, and dealing with the responsibility of potentially having a colleague put on leave or fired. So what are you supposed to do?
With the right tools in place, the idea of an alcohol-free environment becomes a reality vs a distant possibility. A tool like SOBRcheck has recently been developed as an agnostic device to help prevent alcohol related problems before they start. As a biometric touch-based device, all employees can be tested for alcohol detection before they start working, providing added insurance against alcohol-related incidents, as well as financial and reputational risk.
This first-of-its-kind tool can be critical in not only supporting work performance and creating a sense of safety for all employees, but for industries in which employees are driving, operating heavy machinery or responsible for others’ lives–this tool can prevent tragic and avoidable accidents with the touch of a finger.
Making Work a Safe Space
By utilizing an agnostic tool such as SOBRcheck, employers can avoid other employees feeling the need to approach their inebriated colleague and call them out for being under the influence, which can ultimately contribute to a hostile work environment, feelings of betrayal, and a ‘big brother’ mentality on the job.
Workplace health and wellbeing has become a top priority for employees returning to work, with 66% of the workforce concerned about returning to the office under unsafe conditions. But this doesn’t just apply to COVID-19. While the pandemic served as the catalyst for more safety precautions to be put into place, it also further highlighted the need for innovative tools to enhance safety in our work environments.
With zero tolerance policies, employees are not likely to come forward with their alcohol abuse issue with fear of retribution or termination. By implementing an agnostic tool that detects alcohol before they start the workday, employers can send employees home without concern of liability, poor work performance or absenteeism. It also gives employers the opportunity to discreetly manage issues with substance use on the job, helping to destigmatize the issue. Leaders would be empowered to take that employee concern a step further by offering support instead of simply kicking them to the curb for their misstep.
Offering Resources for Substance Abuse
A tool such as SOBRcheck is a step in the right direction to eliminate potentially disastrous outcomes on the job. Employee Assistance Programs can be a confidential and free way to get employees help, but EAPs are extremely underutilized and only 10% of people with substance abuse problems will even seek out treatment because of the stigma associated with alcohol abuse – especially in the workplace.
Make it clear that these resources are available to all employees, especially for those who are struggling. Let them know that they can return to work once they have gone through the necessary steps for treatment and that they will continue to monitor for alcohol use on the job once they come back to work.
These resources can be difficult to navigate in a remote setting but for industrial and essential workers that can’t work from home, it can be a matter of life and death if they are intoxicated on the job. Not only can it jeopardize their own well-being, but it can impede on the safety and well-being of their colleagues and customers who are around them.
Employers need to take the insights and lessons learned from the pandemic and tangibly apply them to their own work environments to cultivate a sense of non-discriminatory safety for everyone. It is up to the leaders to set new standards for what constitutes a safe work environment; through effective policies and having the right tools in place, employees can be supported and helped.
The reality of the situation goes even beyond employee wellbeing. By supporting employees and preventing potential injuries and fatalities on the job, any company, regardless of size, is going to SAVE money in the long run. Ensuring an alcohol-free work environment enables businesses to avoid accidents, promote optimal work performance and create a sense of camaraderie between employees, knowing that everyone is tested, and everyone is eligible for support if needed. In the end, by protecting your employees, you are also protecting your bottom line; financially, physically, emotionally and mentally.