BY JACOB OKETCH
An alcoholic employee is a nightmare that many employers have to grapple with. In many cases, the easier option taken is firing the drunk and replacing him with a sober person.
The question is, how does this improve productivity in the company? Assuming that the alcoholic was a top performer while sober, doesn’t this approach lead to a drop in performance if the replacement cannot match the effectiveness of the fired alcoholic?
Places of work are like homes. If you cannot achieve peace at your place of work when home is in chaos then where do you turn to? When people are working together, they form some sort of family and they should behave as such. Most employees who suffer from alcoholism hardly have the forum where they can ventilate and have their problems heard. So when an employee skives duty regularly, you may want to interrogate why this is happening before taking a drastic step like firing them.
The challenge for an employer is how to handle an alcoholic employee who has a chance of recovering. Instead of focusing on the misdeeds of the employee, it is better to focus on how to assist them to overcome that problem. An organization must have some form of service for sick employees. Unfortunately, alcoholism is not viewed as any form of illness and that is why alcoholics are treated quite harshly. Assisting an alcoholic employee could be best done by encouraging them to seek treatment, even at the expense of the company. In most cases of turnaround, it is these kinds of employees who eventually perform beyond the expectations of the employer because their recovery, through some sort of spiritual experience, led to their outstanding performance when they resumed work.
A story is told of an employer who lost three exceptional employees due to his ignorance of what alcoholism entailed. The boss did not give these employees a fair hearing. He opted to dismiss them summarily when he discovered that they were drunks. They did reach out to him asking for clemency but he never bothered to listen. All of them committed suicide. This is the way organizations lose very valuable staff because of the manner in which their problems are handled. It does not have to be a question of firing a drinking employee. When an employer understands that an alcoholic is powerless over the drink, they will stop judging them on the basis of their conduct while drunk.
Organizations that are keen on facilitating for their employees to seek treatment while on the job are doing a fantastic thing. When you show someone that they have a second chance, you motivate them to change. Chances are high that most people who seek treatment while on the job recover fully as opposed to those who seek treatment after being fired.
Why do employers have to wait until the alcoholic has reached rock bottom to act? It does not seem to be humane when employers summarily dismiss members of their work force as a result of drinking. In fact, it is hypocritical to carry out corporate social responsibility when you treat your employees unfairly by firing them due to misconduct that can be sorted out in another way.
There are many occupations that tolerate drinking at work. For example, when you are working in a music studio, the long night working hours can be interspersed with some booze. This does not mean that there is no work being done. It is just that booze seems to boost the morale of the working team. There are also people who have liquor cabinets in their offices. I don’t have a problem with how and where people take their drink as long as it is not the drink that determines one’s performance at work. They should have the liberty to decide how and when they drink so long as it does not disrupt work. This only applies to social users of alcohol. But an alcoholic should not even think about drinking under whatever circumstance because it will definitely impair their judgment and mess up their work.
Even the strictest employers know that they should not interfere with the freedoms of their employees. Hence, you find companies even organizing staff parties and other events where drinking is involved. These are meant to boost the morale of the staff and also to bond. Therefore, it is only fair that employees who face challenges related to the drink be accorded a hearing to find out how their problems can be solved. The same way the employer views alcohol as a morale booster, is the same way they should see an employee misbehaving as fun taken too far and find ways of managing it.
Employers should invest a bit more on the issue of alcoholism .If you look at the amount of money a company spends on its operations, you wonder why it becomes very reluctant to spend adequately on an alcoholic employee. In any case, it is the employee who drives the productivity of the company so why should the company be stingy when it comes to the employees’ welfare? Alcoholic employees are also part of the valuable workforce and their welfare ought to be top of the agenda of a company that intends to prosper.
We are all bound to make mistakes, either at our places of work, at home or anywhere else for that matter. Employers should be keen on what makes an employee veer off the course. Where there is genuine reason for firing an employee, there shouldn’t be any further consideration. But when there are other ways of addressing the problem, all avenues should be explored. It makes no sense to spend so much training a workforce then just dismiss them summarily on grounds of alcoholism. It means the organization has not taken the long-term approach of managing the workforce to ensure sustainability.