There are addicts and there are those who are almost addicted. Employees in the latter group have not yet fallen to the level of stealing to fund their habit or leaving their families to live on the street.
Many of them are actually star performers on their teams. If you visit hospitals often, you may hear the odd tale about a surgeon who cannot perform unless he downs a few bottles of beer first, to steady his nerves.
Addicts, be they of drugs, alcohol or gambling, are not only found in hovels or bars; many of them are fully employed and functioning members of society.
When Stanley Kibuuka* was appointed as a business development manager, he completely turned around the organisation. His ingenuity attracted donors to fund company projects. But there were disturbing signs.
He would suddenly disappear for days and could not be reached on phone. In his absence, work hang in balance because he neglected to delegate. When he reappeared, he was always disheveled, with bruises all over his body.
He was eventually fired; but to retain his creativity, the company hired him as a consultant, tying itself down to his addiction again.
As a supervisor, dealing with addictions, especially alcoholism is crucial because the consequences affect team performance.
Deus Okurut, an organisational psychologist says, “An addict finds difficulty keeping up with the pace of work and deadlines will be continuously extended. Team members are also placed in an uncomfortable situation of deciding whether, and when, to report an addict to the manager.”
If they decide to stoically carry the burden of his or her addiction, by covering up for them, this can lead to resentment.
“For alcoholism, it is easier to see the signs but for other addictions like gambling and pornography, the signs are not overt,” says Okurut.
Many addicts have mastered the art of living a double life. However, deterioration in the quality of work is a revealing sign; although it can also be attributed to other emotional problems an employee could be facing.
Worsening personal hygiene, poor work relations, and unexplained absences are red flags. Sometimes, addicts avoid supervisory contact, especially after breaks in which they could have been indulging.
“Firing an employee suffering from addiction is not productive,” says Okurut. “As an organisation, you have invested in this employee’s training and performance. Each case should be treated on an individual basis. It is better to support them through counselling or recommend them to seek medical help.”
Every organisation should have a human resource policy which includes recommendations in case the code of conduct is breached. Some companies have work counsellors to deal with such problems while others have zero tolerance to any kind of addiction.
Okurut maintains that confronting an employee is dependent on if the addiction is impairing performance or jeopardising relations with colleagues.
“Have your facts off hand by reading through their performance reports. Open dialogue and stick to the fact that their addiction is not only affecting their performance but is also ruining team cohesion,” he says.
Also, Okurut argues, hold the employee accountable for their behaviour. Do not ask other team members to cover up for him or her.
Sometimes employees resort to alcohol to manage stress factors on the job. They are trying to manage the stress; although in a destructive way. If the stress factors are within your reach to change, work on policies to change them.
“These initial talks are usually enough to jolt the employee into action, and if they agree to change, give them time off to seek professional help,” says Okurut.
However, denial is endemic among addicts and the company may decide to let the employee go if the addiction gets out of hand.