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​ If You Are a DOT Supervisor with a Drinking Problem You Can Still Confront Employees

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So, you just finished your DOT supervisor training and are worried that because you have a drinking problem that you

A supervisor with a drinking problem may have an edge

can’t confront employees? Think again. You can, and you may even do it more effectively than other supervisors in your organization.

That’s because your issues with drinking give you an edge. It’s called educated second guessing of defense mechanisms. No we are not talking about diagnosing your employee, we are talking about a better ability to know a bullshitter.

Your drinking problem (you may not yet have identified yourself as an alcoholic, but are pretty worried about or sure) gives you special insight into an alcoholic’s thoughts and behaviors. You can get inside the head of employees drinking on the job and determine how to avoid their manipulative tactics. You can easily see patterns of behavior that may escape your peers. Again, you are not diagnosing, you are using your affinity for the problem to reduce risk in the workplace.

All of this may make you a bit uneasy, but the truth is that EAPs see this everyday. Many people with drinking problems believe they are lucky and efficient drinkers. They know their body and life experiences with alcohol are periodically problematic, but they are still counting themselves a clever drinkers with high levels of productivity, awareness, and a following of people who love them…but, they are alcoholic.

If you suspect that a worker is drinking on the job, you know how to investigate the situation almost instinctively. You know the best hiding places for a flask or a bottle. You can spot behavior right away, such as shaking hands, slurred speech and poor judgment.

But where you’ll really excel is in confronting employees who are drunk at work. Alcoholics know how to manipulate to stay out of trouble. You already have used many of these methods yourself, such as attempting to make others feel guilty, telling would be "confronters" that their perceptions aren’t real, and trying to appeal to friendship with the boss to invoke a sense of loyalty that overshadows the needs of the workplace.

You understand that the alcoholic is incapable of accepting blame for the situation he now finds himself in, and that excuses are well-thought out and sophisticated.

You can be an example to your employees drinking on the job. Show them that they can manage their addictive illness and recover from it with help, such as treatment or recovery groups when, and if they employee offers a confession about the nature of their drinking problem—but link this to referral to the employee assistance program of your organization, instantly and without delay. This is an open window of opportunity, and it closes fast. Your goal also in such a discussion is to help the employee overcome fear of getting help.

One caution about being a supervisor in recovery: Don’t try to be a worker’s sponsor. Many supervisors have gotten sober after drug and alcohol training and the referral of employees to treatment. But don’t 12-step your employees. It’s a mixing of roles that simply does not work. It’s easy to slip into this role. Boundaries, limits that alcoholics tend to have problems with, need to be set between you and your workers. Remember always that your role first and foremost is to be their supervisor. You can still be supportive, but within the confines of that role.

Although you have insight into the addicts at work, you will still benefit from reasonable suspicion training—no one is a complete expert on it. You’ll learn how to gather evidence effectively and tips on how to de-escalate situations that may get volatile when you confront employees high or drunk at work. You’ll be the supervisor that all the others look to when they need help confronting their own employees.

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