When You Learn Your Employee is an Alcoholic

Alcoholic woman carrying a bottle of liquerIt’s not only disheartening but also disruptive when you learn one of your staff members has a drinking problem. Just this past week, a business colleague had a very upsetting experience that almost lost her a client. She called us in frustration because she didn’t know what to say to her employee.

Don’t Become an Enabler

She said that she finally accepted this employee couldn’t control his drinking. Let’s not mince words; she’s pretty certain that he’s an alcoholic. He had gradually been taking longer and longer lunches and often came back to the office smelling of alcohol.

The situation escalated during the holiday season when he had consumed a little too much good “cheer.”

Our colleague warned him repeatedly – but that was ignoring the real problem. Finally, one afternoon, after too much drinking, he sent an incoherent email to a client, copying her. Luckily, the client accepted our colleague’s excuses. That’s when she asked us what else we thought she could do to help him.

While we’re not a HR or social service firm, we pointed out that she was enabling his drinking habit by not laying down strict guidelines.

Mental health concept - addictions. Alcohol last friend.His behavior was also disruptive to other employees. He was having money problems – typical when an alcoholic is spending money on liquor and not the necessities – and was hitting up other employees for “loans.”

His colleagues at the firm also had to pick up the slack when he was unable to complete his assignments after a bout of drinking. That simply wasn’t fair.

It’s sad, she told me because he is intelligent and likeable when sober, which has prompted her to continue to tolerate his bad behavior.

Lay Down the Law

She alone can’t help him at this point. He needs professional counseling and an ultimatum: get help to get sober or you’re out.

While this may sound harsh, it is ultimately up to employee to decide which road to take: the one that leads to sobriety or the one that goes down the hill of continued drinking and a lost life.

Alcoholics can be cunning and find ways to cover up their behavior in the office. As a boss you can’t be gullible and accept one excuse after another.

The truth is everyone knows what’s going on. It’s transparent. They can smell liquor on someone’s breath as he wobbles his way back to his desk.

They know why he’s always late, or spends an inordinate amount of time in the rest room. Pretending he isn’t an alcoholic and covering up for him with clients is a real morale-killer.

How to Help

If you have an employee with a drinking problem, the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), advises that you offer your support but “don’t expect the person to stop without help”

NCADD also suggest things you don’t want to do:

  • Don’t Preach: Don’t lecture, threaten, bribe, preach or moralize.
  • Don’t Be A Martyr: Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
  • Don’t Cover Up, lie or make excuses for them and their behavior.
  • Don’t Assume Their Responsibilities: Taking over their responsibilities protects them from the consequences of their behavior.
  • Don’t Argue When Using: Arguing with the person when they are using alcohol or drugs, at that point they can’t have a rational conversation.
  • Don’t Feel Guilty or responsible for their behavior, it’s not your fault.
  • Don’t Join Them: Don’t try to keep up with them by drinking or using.

If you find yourself doing some of these things with an employee, then it’s time to stop. You’ve got other employees who may need your attention. And you have your own responsibilities –- a business to run and clients to serve.

Point your employee to organizations where she can get help but make it clear that you will no longer tolerate her unacceptable behavior.

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