Tips for Addressing Substance Use Concerns in a Remote Work Environment

Posted on April 8, 2021 by Adam Frei, MS, LPC, CEAP

Updated April 8, 2021

Female Middle Aged Remote Employee Drinking Wine on Job_SmallIn 2020, we experienced one of the most significant transitions to impact the modern workforce. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees who could work remotely were recommended or in some states mandated to do so. Whereas prior to the pandemic around 20% of workers whose jobs could be completed remotely did so, by the end of 2020, that percentage had shifted to around 71%. This transition, along with the numerous other stressors and challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a noticeable increase in substance use and misuse for remote workers. As many workplaces continue to work remotely, many organizations are not prepared for how to address substance use concerns when they are not in the same physical space as their employees.

Below are some helpful tips, guidelines and things to look for when managing employees remotely and addressing potential substance use concerns.

Know what to look for

Even though it may be harder to recognize substance use when you are collaborating in a digital environment, there are still numerous behavioral changes to watch out for that can be signs of potential substance use concerns. None of the markers noted below necessarily mean that an individual is struggling with their substance use, but any noticeable change provides important information to help you address underlying concerns. Changes could include:

  • Change in job performance (increase or decrease)
  • Increase in mistakes or errors
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Working longer hours
  • Changes in appearance (looking disheveled or unkept)
  • Impulsive body modifications (hair color/style, tattoos, piercings)
  • Decreased availability/responsiveness
  • Changes in speech patterns
  • Physical movements (fidgeting, twitching)
  • Increased irritability or lack of caring

Know what to do

Issues such as substance use that lead to concerns in the workplace often exist undetected for much longer before they result in noticeable behavioral changes in the workplace. As a leader it is important to focus on both prevention and early intervention.

Promote your resources

One of the best prevention strategies is to promote the supportive resources that your employees already have access to, such as their Employee Assistance Program or other well being resources. These confidential and comprehensive resources can assist in addressing the underlying stressors that may be contributing to an individual’s increased substance use. Whenever possible, make the resources that you are sharing personal. If you are comfortable sharing your experience using the resources, it can dispel some of the myths or excuses that employees make to avoid seeking support.

Check in

One of the best ways to recognize an employee of concern is being able to see them (even virtually) on a regular basis. Normalizing regular check-in meetings with individual employees gives you the opportunity to build trust and rapport. These check-ins lead to more open and honest conversations about an employee’s overall well being and how you can best support them in the workplace. When you’ve established trust with your employees, you can openly address the changes you’ve observed, and your employees can feel safe enough to respond openly and honestly to the concerns you’ve raised.

We Can Help

As a manager, supervisor or other leader in your organization, we understand that having discussions around mental health and substance use are not easy to have. Whether you are looking for specific resources in your area or want to connect with a Senior Consultant to prepare for a difficult conversation with an employee, we can help. Contact us at 800.383.1908 to get connected to your VITAL WorkLife resources to support your own well being, and the well being of your employees.


Interested in learning more?

Contact Us


Tags in this post

All Entries

Get New Insights Delivered to Your Inbox