Thursday, October 18, 2018

Domestic Staff Alcoholics

At some point, you will likely encounter employees with problems related to alcohol in dealing with performance, conduct, and leave problems. - Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors /

A long-term associate, who now runs a substance abuse detox program for HNW clients, recently contacted me and asked to be mentioned on this blog. And although I was flattered he considered me a viable resource for promoting his business, I reminded him the Mission of The Domestic Staff Citizen is to provide a free community resource, one of information for topics relevant to domestic staff household management - one in which both the domestic workers and the estate owners can access in a truly commercial-free zone.

Yet, the topic of substance abuse is of such importance, I was surprised it had escaped the attention of postings thus far, and thusly, here we are today, and although not promoting any specific vendor, hopefully we'll be providing food for thought and enough free resources for you to begin your own research and decision making. 


The topic is so enormous, however, this simple posting won't attempt to be a clearinghouse of resources for the reader, however, as with other research on all things human resource management, some links to create awareness and compassion of the matter, for the purpose of how we ultimately retain our good performance as service providers and help others around us, as well.  

One such resource which is simple and to the point, is from the website, Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors. Nothing in this online booklet will be groundbreaking to the average person, yet it's a good reminder of the focus which supervisors in workplaces should assume: that of ensuring service delivery as promised, and increasing whatever actions move the team toward that end and and decreasing whatever gets in the way. 

And alcoholism, as with any other illness or distraction which may befall a worker and which needs to be addressed head-on by strong-willed supervisors with sufficient resources and conclusive actions, falls within that category of what gets in the way.


If you torture the data long enough, it will confess. - Ronald H. Coase

That famous quote by Ronald Coase has been heard by just about anyone who's taken a statistics class - and was the first thing I thought about when a website I perused this morning tossed out the assertion that 25% of all female surgeons in the United States are alcoholics. And male surgeons? Well, slightly less than the girls, yet, they smoke more.

Wait. What?! Surgeons? They're alcoholics? And they smoke cigarettes, too?

It may be true. All you'd need to get the numbers to match up is to find one alcoholic female surgeon and sit her down at the kitchen table with three others who aren't, and there you'd have your sample population containing 25% for your study. But even if my cynical reaction is off the mark and the study was actually of a scientific and honorable methodology, my point here is that whenever I see a study quoted on a for-profit business website, I usually want to keep looking for more information - from those folks who aren't selling something to you with fancy websites and smiling salespeople; somewhere the data had, most likely, anyway, not been tortured.

But the numbers themselves don't matter too much, really. Substance abuse issues are the potential reality for anyone - in any job or demographic. The fact is: any percentage of your domestic staff team may be subject to the illness of alcoholism and other substance abuse issues, just as any of them may be affected by any number and range of other physical or mental illnesses which create issues for the enjoyment of their lives and performance at work, issues which can be treated if the resources are actually available and the barriers of shame are removed for the domestic worker so that he/she may access the help they need to get better, and the estate management - and the estate ownersare actually serious about addressing this and other estate performance issues head-on, and expecting consistency in high performance from each and every one of their service team members.

That last part is important enough to repeat here again, yet this time we're going to use some really big print to underscore the importance:

...and the estate management - and the estate owners - are actually serious about addressing this and other estate performance issues head-on, and expecting consistency in high performance from each and every one of their service team members.

Does your household staff manual contain language such as suggested by SHRM which addresses the expectations for sobriety on the job?  Are these expectations discussed during your staff meetings as openly, plainly, and without introducing any stigma or shame into the illness, just as would be expected for any other physical or mental illness which needs attention and help for the worker?

Of noteworthiness is the helpful approach the booklet from handles the matter for supervisors, which is that of recognizing and addressing the issue as it arises with a worker and to be helpful, of course, yet to not slide into the role of an enabler:

Avoid being an enabler. 

An enabler is someone who allows the alcoholic to continue the addition without being held responsible for his or her actions. Supervisors often think that they are being kind, when actually they are hurting the alcoholic [domestic worker] by letting him or her continue to engage in self-destructive behaviors. 

In addition, failing to hold the alcoholic [domestic worker] accountable can have a negative effect on co-workers' morale.  -

And within this same resource, they explain the ultimate responsibility to treat this (just as with any other) disease rests upon the worker, not the supervisor or the company:

Alcoholism is a disease. [Domestic workers] who suffer from it need the [family office's] compassion. 

However, sometimes that compassion has to be firm in order to communicate that, while the [family office] is willing to help the [domestic worker] get assistance, the [domestic worker] is ultimately responsible for his or her own rehabilitation, recovery, and performance. 

The best help that you as a supervisor can offer is to learn something about the disease, refer the [domestic worker] to the EAP/Employee Assistance Program [which your family office or health insurance broker should have already established as ready in advance], and hold him or her accountable for his or her conduct or performance. -

OK and here we go again... that last part is important enough to also repeat here, and this time again in more really big print in order to emphasize the importance for both workers and estate owners:

...and hold him or her accountable for his or her conduct or performance.

Are we starting to see a pattern here? Is this starting to look like the human resource management approach to ensuring the consistent delivery of product or service to the client, AKA estate owner, as was  promised... and as is expected? 


This is a truth - if and only if - the domestic
worker on your estate chooses it to be a truth.
Although the above advice deals with specifically alcoholism, I believe the same approach is valid toward all other performance issues on a domestic staff team.

My own professional opinion is that the most important consideration is to be the open and friendly, non-judgmental communication and approach toward this and any other challenge a worker may be facing with a direct and no-nonsense sit down conversation. And as the booklet above advises, the supervisor (of whatever domestic staff title he/she happens to hold) should offer credible resources for the worker to draw upon, yet simultaneously accept nothing less from the worker than 100%  commitment to the elimination of the performance issue - and any root causes thereof.

The below 5-Step process is a sensible and favorite formula of mine, one which is appropriate for this... or any other performance issue at your estate... and one that keeps it simple and respectful for any performance issue, whether it be alcoholism, drug abuse, dishonesty, laziness, poor team collaboration, or even that drippy and perpetual annoyance of chronic work schedule tardiness:

  1. Houston, we have a problem.
  2. We've all had problems and made mistakes - and there's no shame in that.
  3. We've got some amazing resources here to help you improve!
  4. Your continued employment here depends upon: your improving.
  5. And now, the choice is yours.

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