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Health Management - Health Challenges - Recognize the signs

Human Resources


Health Management

Recognize the signs

Are you concerned about your own substance use?

Often employees will recognize they may be struggling with a substance use issue long before it impacts their work. Asking for help is the first step to recovery. There are resources available to assist you. Contact Homewood Health at 1-800-663-1142 or through their website at

Are you a supervisor concerned about your employee’s substance use?

Substance use (including alcohol as well as legal and illegal drugs) is a health challenge that has its own set of signs to indicate that it may be an issue. As a supervisor, you are not there to diagnose dependency. It’s your job to notice if your employee is fit for work. If you think they aren’t fit for work it’s also your responsibility to confront the situation.

How to confront the situation

Make notes

While you are assessing if there is a potential of substance use that is impacting your employee’s work performance, make detailed notes. Keep a record of the times your employee didn’t show up on time or didn’t show up at all, as well as times when they failed to meet a deliverable. Be objective in your notes. Don’t include your suspicions or gossip. Your notes intended to be used as a reference point for when you talk to your employee.

Do not diagnose. Supervisors are responsible for the early identification and handling of performance problems. It is not your role to determine impairment and no attempt should be made to diagnose a health problem or substance dependency, sometimes called addiction.

Potential indicators to look for

Remember, one sign or symptom isn’t usually enough to be concerned, but if you notice a pattern, you need to address the issue. Overall the main indicator is change from what is usual for the employee.

Look for changes in job performance such as

  • Patterns of absence, such as repeated absences following paydays or holidays, repeated absences on Mondays or Fridays
  • Excessive absence due to illness or accidents on and off the job
  • Physical illness on the job
  • Coming to work in abnormal condition
  • Sporadic or inconsistent work pace or lower productivity
  • Errors in judgment or increase in mistakes
  • Reduced concentration
  • Missing important meetings or deadlines
  • Neglect of details or difficulty in recalling instructions or details
  • Complaints from co-workers
  • More frequent or extended breaks

Look for changes in physical appearance

  • Puffy or red face, broken blood vessels
  • Sloppy appearance
  • Signs of fatigue or sleepiness on the job
  • Watery eyes/sniffles
  • Dilated pupils
  • Red eyes
  • Shaky (tremors) - hands or walking
  • Cold sweaty palms
  • Unusual weight gain or weight loss
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Body odours such as the aroma of alcohol, scent of breath fresheners to cover the aroma of alcohol, aroma of skunk on clothes and hair, heavier use of cologne or perfume

Look for changes in behavior

  • Mood swings
  • Belligerence
  • Withdrawal or excessive talkativeness
  • Apathy
  • Personality change
  • Irrational behaviour
  • Deteriorating relationships or a change in friends
  • Suspicious attitude toward others
  • Risky behaviour

Look for changes in speech pattern

  • Slurred speech or excessively slow speech
  • Loud, vocal, excessive talkativeness or withdrawn

What to do if ...

Suspect employee of substance use

Suspect employee of being under the influence

Employee comes forward acknowledging substance use

Who can help?

Your HR Advisor can discuss your situation and provide advice. If you don’t know who your HR Advisor is call HR Support Services at 403-268-5800.

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