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How to Help an Alcoholic Colleague or Employee?

Posted on September 29, 2021

How to Help an Alcoholic Colleague or Employee?

Depending on where you work and how many employees you work with, you might end up working with a colleague who struggles with an addiction to alcohol.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a senior executive, CEO, middle manager or shop floor worker; alcoholism does not discriminate and it can affect anyone.

Some people might struggle with their addiction to alcohol but are also able to keep on track of their day to day lives. In this case, it’s likely that colleagues will never find out that there’s even a problem in the first place.

However, over a long period of time, an addiction to alcoholism does tend to take over one’s life. Whether you turn up late to work a few times, start to smell alcohol or simply talk about how much alcohol you consume a bit too much; it doesn’t take a lot to recognize that someone suffers from an addiction to alcohol.

This is when the signs start to become noticeable in the workplace. Just like any other addiction, an addiction to alcohol not only affects the individual, but also affects those around them too.

This includes work colleagues. Whilst there are lots of negative stigmas surrounding addiction to alcohol, people are becoming increasingly more educated and supportive towards the issue and those struggling.

Whilst an individual struggling with alcoholism might be apprehensive to speak to a colleague about their issue, they might be able to offer help and guidance to make your time in work a supportive and positive place.

Likewise, if you see someone struggling with alcoholism at work then it might be difficult to know how to approach them and what you can do to help. Firstly, it starts with being able to identify the warning signs.

Warning Signs

It would be anyone’s worst nightmare to approach a colleague who you think struggles with their alcohol intake, only to find out that there’s not actually a problem in the first place.

This is why it’s really important to understand the warning signs of someone who is struggling.

Here is a list of well-known warning signs to look out for whilst at work:

  • Making lots of easy mistakes frequently
  • Smelling of alcohol
  • Being late to work
  • Ready and bloodshot eyes
  • Tremouring
  • Missing deadlines
  • Being late for meetings
  • A change in their physical appearance
  • Feeling tired and sleepy, or feeling asleep at work
  • Heavy drinking on work night outs
  • Talking frequently about the drinking of an evening or on the weekend
  • Isolating themselves from friends or colleagues

How to Confront an Employee with an Alcohol Issue

It can be really difficult and can take a lot of strength and confidence to confront an employee about an issue with their alcohol consumption. This can be equally as hard to do if you’re a regular colleague or their boss.

Knowing where the boundary between one’s work and personal life is something everything finds hard to do.

However, it’s important to remember that you’re just trying to help them. You don’t have to accuse them or come down hard on them. Simply wanting to check on their health and welfare is a very caring and responsible thing to do.

If you’ve never dealt with anyone with an alcohol addiction before, then it’s really hard to know how to approach the conversation.

Here’s a list of helpful tips and advice on how to confront your colleague:

  • You should always aim to confront them in a private and mutual space
  • Don’t talk about your worry about other colleagues or friends unless they already know. This could be construed as gossiping otherwise, and it’s not your secret to tell.
  • However, you could possibly consider having HR at the meeting with you as impartial support.
  • You should have examples of their behaviour to help you explain why you think they have an issue
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Come across as caring and curious, rather than judgmental or accusatory
  • Try and convince them to seek help and advice from a medical professional
  • If they refuse to admit that there’s a problem, allow management or the HR representative to address the issues surrounding their performance and make sure they can talk to you anytime about their current struggles.

How Can I Help Them?

Below, we outline a number of ways you can help:

Co-Worker Interventions

Just as is listed above, there is a right and wrong way to confront a colleague. Using an intervention with other people present might be a good way to confront the individual if the issue is becoming more serious.

Interventions are a great and proven way to help those suffering acknowledge that there’s an issue and seek help.

If you have a close relationship with the individual, you could include their family members and friends. If not, you might want to keep the intervention to just workplace colleagues.

It is also highly advised that you should ask a professional to attend the intervention with you, such as a psychotherapist or a councillor.

Interventions can be a significant and overwhelming point in the individual’s life. So, it’s really important that it’s led by individuals who know what they’re doing and it’s done in a private and mutual place.

Reduce any Workplace Stresses that Might Contribute to Alcohol Addiction

As well as confronting the individual and holding an intervention with a healthcare professional, it would also be really helpful to work to reduce any form of workplace stress that might contribute to stress for the individual.

Even if you decide that you don’t want to confront them or hold an intervention, but quietly making these changes unbeknown to anyone, you’ll be helping your colleague who’s currently suffering.

These small but helpful and powerful changes might include:

  • Reducing their workload if their workload is particularly heavy at times
  • Reducing any form of workplace conflict with other colleagues
  • Making sure the workplace is a nice environment to spend time in, such as making sure everyone is friendly and the office or workplace is clean and tidy
  • Trying to ensure their job and income is as secure as possible

Support Them rather Than Judge Them

One of the worst things you can do to anyone who’s suffering from alcohol addiction is judging them.

The truth is that in work, everyone is a bit self-conscious that they’re doing a good job and that they’re liked by their colleagues. No one likes to be judged, especially not in work.

Therefore, if you do decide to approach your colleague then you should make sure you’re also doing anything you can to support them. You should sound supportive and caring, and you must not judge them in any way.

Make sure you know that you want to help them.

Do Not Gossip with other Colleagues

Gossiping is human nature. Whether we like to admit it, everyone likes to gossip from time to time. However, when it’s about something as serious as alcohol addiction, gossiping with other colleagues about another colleague’s possible alcohol addiction is very helpful and should be avoided at all costs.

Do Not Enable their Behaviour in Any Way

Lots of people engage in enabling behaviour without even realising it. If your colleague is late to work, or missing deadlines try not to make excuses for them.

This will only enable their drinking and make them think that they can get away with it.

Whether to Report An Alcoholic Co-worker to HR or a Senior Manager

This is probably one of the hardest things to decide on when you suspect or find out that a colleague is dealing with an addiction to alcohol.

It might come across as trying to get them in trouble and ultimately might destroy any friendship that already exists. While it might not be a colleague’s responsibility to report a suspected alcoholic to a senior manager, it is their responsibility to ensure that other colleagues and the team are safe whilst at work.

For example, if the individual is driving a car to work whilst drunk (especially with other colleagues in) then you should report this to a senior manager straight away.

Likewise, if you suspect that the colleague is actually drinking alcohol whilst in work, then this is likely to be viewed as gross misconduct and a manager has a right to know. Helping a colleague or employee with an addiction is a really hard situation to navigate.

You should read the advice and tips in this article to help guide the situation and hopefully, your colleague will seek further help from a medical healthcare professional.

You should advise them to contact their local GP, or attend a local AA meeting. Find out where your local AA meeting is here.

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