Work from Home Habits Company Leaders Must Address Now
By Tim Stein, Vice President of Human Capital for AAC
With many Americans working from home during self-isolation, everyday habits have drastically changed in order to accommodate new daily routines. For some, this means waking up a few minutes later as there’s no school run or morning commute to worry about, but others are using this newfound freedom as reason to have an alcoholic drink during their workday.
With millions of employees having to adjust to the transition of working from home with little time to prepare, maintaining performance and accountability amid this newfound flexibility and freedom is already challenging. But with 1 in 3 American employees admitting they are more likely to drink alcohol during working hours while quarantined, HR professionals and company leaders should be especially concerned—not only for the company’s sake—but for employees who may need more mental health support than ever to cope with the isolation and stress.
As our national quarantine extends through the month of April and beyond in some states, many businesses will keep in place a work from home policy. Now is the time to educate and proactively address the complex issue around the risks of alcohol use in the remote workplace.
Know the Signs
35% of Americans say they are likely to drink more alcohol while self-isolating, and when particularly confined to your home with less work to do than usual, it can be tempting to grab a drink during the workday. In the office, it’s easy to identify the signs of a problem—the smell of alcohol, glassy eyes, slurred speech, frequent tardiness, performance issues—but with no physical contact, these signs are more difficult to spot, especially for those with no experience managing remote employees.
HR professionals can address this issue by educating managers on the signs of drinking alcohol during work hours. Encourage managers and teams to use video conferencing to check in regularly, and if an employee often looks tired, lacks engagement, displays slurred speech, repeatedly refuses to use the video function, or is often late to meetings, it’s time to bring the issue to the attention of HR.
Set a Good Example
Virtual happy hours have become a popular way to stay connected with co-workers during isolation, but they can also contribute to the problem. Sponsoring a drinking-related function, even virtually, can tempt someone to relapse. With more than 7% of American adults struggling with an alcohol use disorder, statistically there’s a good chance a portion of your employee population is dealing with a substance use disorder or in recovery.
HR teams have the unique opportunity address alcohol use in the remote workplace by keeping certain precautions and sensitivities in mind. Instead of a virtual happy hour, find healthier, creative, and sober alternatives to help keep employees connected, like online games or hosting a weekly virtual lunch. This makes everyone feel comfortable and welcome, including those who choose not to drink for whatever reason.
Reinforce a Remote Open-Door Policy
If your company doesn’t already have an open-door policy, now is the time to establish one and make it well-known to staff. This allows employees to feel comfortable going to their manager or HR when struggling with stress, difficult work situations, or battling with substance use. While it cannot be required for employees to self-report addiction or substance use disorders, creating an environment in which they feel comfortable to do so can be extremely valuable. In some organizations, leadership will take steps to ensure employees get the treatment and support they need if an employee self-reports a relapse. However, if it’s uncovered the employee is using, that is grounds for immediate termination. Approaching the situation from a non-threatening, non-judgmental perspective is critical because it creates an environment in which employees know they can get help, rather than hiding in secret.
Invest in Remote Work Training
This uncharted territory for both management and their employees at companies that have never implemented a work from home policy before. Providing employee training on how to be productive, manage expectations, and setting and achieving KPIs is helpful to avoid common work-from-home pitfalls. For managers, include training on how to diagnose performance issues and hold employees accountable remotely.
Offering proactive guidance, education, and training provides employees at all levels with strategies that can help reduce the stress and uncertainty of the situation. This can help prevent the development of any unhealthy habits—including drinking on the job. In addition, offer training to all managers and HR staff about substance use in the workplace so they feel prepared to provide the right kind of support in those difficult conversations.
With 32% of Americans saying they are more likely to drink alcohol during work hours while operating from home as compared to working in their typical workspace, proactively addressing drinking on the job during quarantine is crucial. Establishing resources and policies not only protects your company from potential risks, but provides employees with expectations and support to keep them productive, engaged, and healthy during this difficult time.
Tim Stein is the VP of Human Capital at American Addiction Centers. In his role, he manages several departments including Human Resources, Training and Development, and Talent Acquisition. He is celebrating seven years in recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, visit www.alcohol.org