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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dealing with Employee's Poor Performance Related to Substance Abuse

A manager plays the leadership role to help employees reach their highest potentials in the workplace.  To effectively lead employees, the manager should know employees well about their skills, characteristics, personalities, attitudes, and motives.  A manager should treat each employee fairly and objectively with respect, but should not hold a bias against an employee for alcoholic/drug abuse history.  However, a worker’s unusual poor performance should draw the manager’s attention to connect poor performance to possible alcohol/drug influence.  Employees’ alcohol/drug abuse, either in workplace or at home, can jeopardize workplace safety for the employee and other workers, thus the manager must take it seriously.  In this case, considering the worker’s former  alcoholic/drug issues, the manager should investigate this employee’s behavior including substance abuse at work.   According to Steeves (2011), spotting signs of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace can be difficult for employers. Recognising drug use at work is a matter of bringing together evidence from a number of areas; with alcohol, hangovers and tremors are classic symptoms which can be observed.  If the company implements a drug testing policy, the employee may be requested for a drug test if the manager see evidence that substance abuse may have affected the worker’s performance.

It is important for a manager to understand that job performance can be affected by many factors from both workplace and employee’s personal life, thus the manager need to investigate all aspects of possibilities rather than presuming just one area such as alcohol/drug addiction even though the employee has such history.  Therefore, in addition to workplace observation, the manager should also meet with the employee to discuss the performance issue openly.  Often substance abuse is a result of deeper problems with the person, for example, such abuse can be simulated by workplace stress, issues of relationship at work or at home, marriage problems, and more.  Hence the manager should show support and care when discussing these issues with an employee.  If alcoholic/drug use is confirmed, the manager should work with the employee to determine best ways to resolve the problem.  Employee assistance programs and rehabilitation services are often very helpful.  On the other hand, if the company imposes strict drug-free policy and if the employee fails to show positive improvement, then termination of employment will become necessary.


Steeves, R. (2011). Recognising drug abuse at work. Occupational Health, 63(9), 27-30.

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