Mental illness, Alcohol and Drugs in the Workplace

Despair in the workplace

Substance abuse affects all workplaces, even though it may be hidden, and often ignored with the hope it will never do any damage. But it does cause damage in many different ways.

Current estimates show that 25% of your workforce suffers from mental health issues at any one time. This may be anxiety disorders, depression, trauma and a whole raft of other “diagnosable” disorders, that are often not identified but which fester in the background. The World Health Organisation projects that depression alone will be the second greatest cause of disability by the year 2020. That’s not far away and needs to be addressed immediately.

These disorders are a primary cause of poor performance, absenteeism, relationship conflicts and accidents. At a management level such disorders can totally disrupt the organisation, and unfortunately may not be recognised before it is too late.

Such disorders are also a key trigger to substance abuse which in turn magnifies the effect on both individuals and organisations. So how do we identify the problems in the first place, and then how do we react to an identified problem?


Is it my problem?

It’s an obvious question. If someone in my organisation, who comes under my leadership of job description, has a mental health or substance abuse issue, is it really my problem? Why should I take on added workload to deal with it?

The moral and socially acceptable answer is yes. If you don’t have the emotional intelligence to at least care enough to either intervene of direct someone in this situation to assistance, then maybe you should find another job.

Whether you like it or not you are in the people business. Take the people out of your business and see how long the organisation would last. People are a primary asset and the foundation of your business model – always. So if you don’t wish to involve yourself in the issues of your people the chance are you have a high staff turnover and can’t work out why.

If you wish to look at it from a purely commercial aspect – its effect on the bottom line – then consider this. Mental health disorders typically reduce the persons productivity by 75% and mistake rates substantially, requiring work to be redone or the mistake have more serious consequences. It 25% of your workforce are in this predicament, and there productivity suffers by 75% then overall organisational productivity is downgraded by 18%. That’s enough to make or break many organisations. Still think you don’t need to get involved?

In my work in organisations I see a constant thread through the attitude to workforce management in organisations that are not performing well:

  1. a tendency to spend enormous amounts of time in creating boat loads of statistics
  2. a tendency to towards 360 degree assessments which show little in the way the organisation is functioning, since a significant percentage of the people doing the assessments have no real direction or understanding of the issues involved
  3. a tendency to treat staff as a commodity with the expectation that everyone is there to sell their soul to the organisation.
  4. a tendency to try to fix the problem by bringing in motivational and training organisations to supply a hose down of “hot bath” motivation, which at best changes behaviour for 24 hours.

The net result of such methods is generally failure after failure until the organisation goes out of business or just bounces along the bottom without ever creating a growing and stable organisation. Costs are invariably high and profits or other outcomes low. When a downturn in the economy hits there is too little flexibility or resilience to survive.

So now I have had my rant, let’s talk about the solutions.


What can I do?

My background is in psychotherapy and social planning. I have dealt with people on a daily basis for over 35 years at an individual level and organisational and I can say irrefutably that unless you treat people as unique individuals, with respect and edification, you will always lose.

  1. The way you as a manager or HR professional communicate with your staff will directly determine the profitability of the company.
  2. If you don’t spend time and energy understanding the real underlying Values of your clients and your staff your risk of failure is immense. People, whether clients or management or staff seek respect and inclusion as a prime driver of the thoughts, emotions and behaviour. If this is not honoured you will never get their best work or contribution to the company.

There is only one way for management and HR to identify the problem and that is to interact with PEOPLE as individuals, with unique desires, needs and goals in life. If you respect this and encourage this they will literally die for you.

If you are senior management this may take a change in understanding of processes within your organisation. First, fix your own problems if you suffer from anxiety or depression. This is not something to be embarrassed about or try to hide because frankly no-one takes on such issues as a choice. They derive from our work and home environment and more often than not programming we took on when we were children. Easily fixed. The other common issue is diet, with our modern diet causing deep depression and anxiety. Again, easily sorted.

Once you have done this you will have a better understanding of your people and act with greater compassion and emotional intelligence. We have programs that can sort out entire organisations, starting at the top.

The results? Demonstrable increase in bottom line and a far happier and more productive workforce.

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