Smoking is not the only addiction that must be tackled in the workplace

Last month, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that employers should support the government’s strategy of improving the nation’s health by helping their staff to give up smoking.

NICE estimated that a business with 20 workers – of whom typically five would smoke – could spend £66 helping staff to quit, and make an overall saving of £350 from increased productivity. The advice was restricted to staff addicted to tobacco, but what about those with alcohol, drug, or other addictions?

As you should be well aware, on 1 July 2007, England will become subject to laws similar to those already in operation in Scotland and Wales, which ban smoking in the workplace. Employers will be obliged to display appropriate ‘no smoking’ signs and stop people smoking on their premises. Non-compliance may lead to a fine of up to £2,500 or criminal charges.

Employers have no legal obligation to support staff who are trying to quit smoking, or those with other addictions. That said, in this day and age, it makes sense for employers to tackle all addiction issues head on. But is it worth the time and expense?

Stub it out

Recent research in Amsterdam indicates that smokers take an average of eight days more sick leave each year than non-smokers. Nuffield Proactive Health’s research into employer attitudes towards smoking found 73% would recruit a non-smoking candidate over a smoker, while 60% believed smokers were less productive. And research by the Benenden Healthcare Society found that the average smoker takes 3.2 cigarette breaks per working day, each lasting 9.5 minutes.

Aside from smoking, around 10% of accidents in the workplace are alcohol-related, and nationwide, up to 14 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol-related absenteeism.

To help combat this, you should adopt a robust approach to your recruitment strategy and find out at an early stage whether a candidate is a smoker, or likes more than a glass of shandy after work. If so, reject them – unless you are prepared to spend the time tackling future issues that may arise.

Help at hand

There’s no doubt that helping ‘addicted’ staff to quit could help a business to cut its sickness absence rates, increase productivity, enhance the corporate image, and reduce the number of instances requiring disciplinary action. According to Nuffield Proactive Health, 59% of managers said that when England’s smoking ban comes into force, employers should proactively support health provisions such as turning smoking rooms into staff gyms, or permitting short ‘fresh air’ breaks to all employees.

HR professionals should ensure that managers are trained in how to recognise the symptoms of drug/alcohol addiction and ways in which they can offer support and guidance. You could also develop policies to set parameters of unacceptable behaviour relating to drugs, alcohol and smoking, and put formal testing/assessments in place. Employers could provide information on local services to help staff stop tackle addictions at minimal cost.

The NICE recommendation to allow time off during work time for staff to attend support programmes could be more cheaply addressed by offering flexible working times. The provision of confidential counselling is also an important way of encouraging staff to be healthier, and need not be expensive.

If your staff quit their addictions, your whole business could become healthier.

The impact of smoking and alcohol at work

  • Smokers take an extra eight days off sick leave per year than non-smokers

  • 73% of employers would recruit a non-smoking candidate over a smoker

  • 60% of employers believe smokers are less productive than non-smokers

  • Smokers take an average of more than 30 minutes in smoking breaks every day

  • 10% of accidents in the workplace are alcohol-related

  • 14 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol-related absenteeism

By Clare Young, solicitor, DWF

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