Personnel e.bulletin – May 2014

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Workplace Wellness: A Plan of Action for Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

Often we associate workplace wellness with providing health and wellness programs, fitness classes or gym memberships, and healthy snacks – practices that all employees can benefit from.  They are straightforward and fun to implement and represent the “happy” side of a healthy workplace.  The other side of workplace wellness is not easy and far from happy.  Consider that:

  1. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans had a diagnosable mental health condition in the last year and many others are at risk.
  2. For almost 20 years, stress-related issues in the workplace have been on the rise. These conditions tend to strike during our most productive working years, and they are among our nation’s most disabling.
  3. Of all drug users, 75 percent are employed and active in the workplace.
  4. About 8 percent of full-time workers—or one out of every 12—between the ages of 18 and 49 report abusing alcohol. About the same number report using illicit drugs.
  5. Six percent of alcohol abusers and 15 percent of illegal drug abusers admit to being drunk or high on the job in the past year – 40 percent of them work that way at least once each week.
  6. 57 percent of employees who abuse legal drugs work in small businesses (under 25 employees) and 39 percent work in medium sized businesses (25-499 employees).
  7. Every year, mental illness and substance abuse cost employers an estimated $80 to $100 billion in direct costs.

The odds are not in your favor – chances are you will have employees with mental heath and/or substance abuse problems. Let’s get ahead of the potential problems.

Action Planning – Immediate To Do’s
While most of the action planning is the same for substance abuse and mental health issues, there are some differences – they will be highlighted throughout.

Focus First on Prevention
As with all health related issues, prevention is king, so develop or update a formal written substance abuse policy that includes:

– A rationale that explains the policy’s justification, purpose, and goals.
– Clear statement of exactly what behaviors you expect from employees (e.g. doing their work free from the negative effects of substance use) and what behaviors you prohibit (e.g. drinking, smoking, or drug use at work or in any way that negatively effects work).
– Explicatively stated consequences for violating the policy.
– Assurances that you will protect confidentiality, administer the policy fairly, impartially, and consistently.

Since your policy may have some legal ramifications, have it reviewed by an employment attorney. Once you develop or update the policy, give a copy to all employees, hold a meeting to explain it, and obtain a signed acknowledgement from each employee.

Marshal Available Resources
Here is a great list of resources to both build awareness and provide support to your employee at no/low cost to you:

National Helplines
– The US Department of Health and Human Services Workplace Helpline of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) – 1-800-WORKPLACE
Free consultation for employers on how to set up and run substance abuse programs including sample policies and a free “Making your Workplace Drug Free” kit.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – 212-269-7797

A resource for employers and employees including a Hope Hotline: 800-NCACALL  (24 hour Affiliate referral).

– Employee Assistance Professionals Association – 703-387-1000

Provides referrals to employee assistance professionals and information on EAPS and substance abuse.

– National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors – 202-293-0090
Provides information on substance abuse programs and contacts in your state.

– APF – American Psychiatric Foundation Partnership for Workplace Mental Health – 703 907-8512
Provides employers with tools and resources to help their company take action to advance mental health in their workplace.

– The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
A free guide that describes three mental health-friendly workplaces and encourages companies to take steps to create a mental health-friendly workplace.

Start Looking for Signs

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following signs and symptoms may (but do not necessarily) indicate possible substance abuse:


– Inconsistent work quality
– Poor concentration
– Lowered productivityIncreased absenteeism
– Unexplained disappearances from the jobsite
– Carelessness, mistakes
– Errors in judgment
– Needless risk taking
– Disregard for safety
– Extended lunch periods and early departures


– Frequent financial problems
– Avoidance of friends and colleagues
– Blaming others for own problems and shortcomings
– Complaints about problems at home
– Deterioration in personal appearance
– Complaints and excuses of vaguely defined illnesses

From a mental health perspective, know that most of your employees who suffer will do so in silence.  They are fearful of the repercussions of coming forward and asking for help.  The most important action you can take is to make all of your employees aware that you are there to support and encourage, not to put their job in jeopardy.  In addition, be aware that common workplace mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and burnout can be aggravated by management actions such as chronic and consistent:

– Imposition of unreasonable demands
– Withholding of information
– Refusal to allow employee discretion over methods of work
– Failure to acknowledge or credit employee contributions
– Failure to recognize the legitimate rights of employees

Set an Example
Once again, you set your workplace tone – the examples set by management have a profound impact on the choices made by your employees.


This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of April 2014. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at


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