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used to fire the employee whose drinking got out of hand.
Now many have found ways to save the worker his livelihood
and themselves money.
Rehabilitating the Alcoholic Worker
from The Wall Street Journal)
Texas oil refinery worker came to work with a hangover one
morning and turned the wrong valve. The oil he wasted cost
the company about $50,000.
highly competent supervisor of a large utility company's
motor fleet began disappearing on drinking binges. Cost
to the company of resulting foul-ups: an estimated $4000
A large Midwestern manufacturer was pleased at the pickup
in business after hiring a new chief executive. Before long,
however, business slacked off. Investigation showed that
the new executive had taken to heavy drinking, impairing
his judgment and damaging the company's standing with customers.
men were alcoholics, whose excessive use of alcohol to meet
the ordinary demands of living caused them serious problems
on the job as well as home. Their cases illustrate why there
is growing concern over alcoholism in industry.
management likes it or not - and there is much to tempt
us to shun the subject - we must combat the increasing menace
of alcoholism," says James F. Oates, Jr., chairman
and president of Equitable Life Assurance Society. A big
reason: alcoholism's direct cost to industry is estimated
to be in excess of one billion dollars annually.
Nearly all companies used to treat excessive drinking among
workers as a moral problem that was better left alone. If
an employe's drinking got out of hand he usually was fired,
not helped. But as companies have become aware of the high
cost of alcoholism in their plants and offices, many have
started tackling the rehabilitation problem head-on.
have set up their own programs for directing and rehabilitating
alcoholic employes. They include Eastman Kodak, Western
Electric, Allis-Chalmers, du Pont, Chicago's Commonwealth
Edison and New York's Consolidated Edison. Other concerns
are working closely with such community groups as Chicago's
Portal House and the Houston Committee on Alcoholism.
Industry's problem centers on an estimated two million alcoholic
workers out of a total U.S. alcoholic population of five
million - up one million in the past five years, according
to the National Council on Alcoholism, the central clearing-house
for information on this subject. Absenteeism of these workers
because of alcoholism will this year cost employers more
than double the time lost through strikes in 1957.
Alcoholism's impact on an individual company and its workers
often is much greater than management may suspect. In 1956,
for example, the Norton Co., a Worcester, Mass., abrasives
and grinding-machine manufacturer, made a survey of 33 employees
with known drinking problems. They were skilled workers
with an average of 16 years' service apiece. Eleven of the
men were in an acute stage of alcoholism and on the verge
of being discharged. They averaged 45 days of lost time
per year, at an annual cost to each man of more than $700.
The findings spurred Norton to help the workers in cooperation
with Alcoholics Anonymous.
corporate cost of excessive drinking includes such things
as increased accidents, the expense of replacing trained
workers and the reduced output and higher work spoilage
from a disturbed drinker. "Our biggest problem is the
so-called half-man - the alcoholic worker whose effectiveness
is off 50 percent or more from normal," says one company
personnel chief. "His mistakes may not be spectacular,
but he doesn't get much done."
are sometimes shocked to learn that as many as three per
cent of their workers are alcoholics. That's because many
management men still stereotype an alcoholic as a skid-row
bum. These workers may present a fairly normal appearance.
Discovery of "hidden" drinkers is a major part
of most company programs. Seldom will workers tip off the
company about a colleague's excessive drinking. And usually
the inroads of alcoholism on a worker's efficiency are made
at such a slow pace that supervisors may miss the signs.
(Researchers say that most alcoholic workers have a history
of 10 to 15 years of increasingly heavy drinking before
their illness interferes with their vocational life.) Supervisors
at Consolidated Edison are trained to watch for clues: consistent
tardiness or absenteeism on Mondays and frequent early departure
on Fridays; unexplained disappearance from the job; recurrent
accidents; unexplained changes in an employe's work habits
Unions, too, have stepped up their efforts to help detect
and rehabilitate workers with drinking problems. "thousands
of union counselors across the country are trained to recognize
alcoholics and to refer them to the proper agencies,"
says Leo Perlis, director of AFL - CIO Community Service
Activities. In Birmingham, Ala., seven companies and 17
unions have joined their efforts to help alcoholic workers.
Companies with alcoholism programs generally are enthusiastic
about the results. Du Pont claims it's program has been
"successful beyond our expectations." Some companies
report the rehabilitated alcoholic often out-produces his
fellow workers, perhaps out of a sense of gratitude for
feel that we have salvaged some valuable employees by treating
alcoholism as a disease and, as with any illness, paying
wages during treatment," asserts Volley B. Leister,
personnel director of Chicago's Commonwealth Edison. His
company uncovers about 15 alcoholics a year, refers them
to its medical department, where treatment is determined
on an individual basis.
Chalmers a few years ago estimated that its alcoholism program,
now 11 years old, was saving the company some $80,000 yearly
just in reduced absenteeism. Among workers treated there,
the absentee rate has been cut from 8 to 3 percent and the
firing rate has been slashed from 95 to 8 percent.
Allis-Chalmers worker with a drinking problem may be referred
to the company's full-time alcoholism counselor (an A.A.
member) by a friend, his foreman, a court or the plant hospital.
During the rehabilitation program the employee is helped
by members of the company's industrial relations department,
which includes a psychologist, a psychiatrist, an attorney,
welfare workers and a "problem counselor."
In 1952 New York's Consolidated Edison spent $25,000 to
help set up a consultation clinic for alcoholism at New
York University's Bellevue Medical Center - the first clinic
devoted solely to the alcoholic in industry. Impressed by
its value, 18 other concerns have referred alcoholic workers
to this clinic.
85 percent of the problem drinkers discovered by Con Edison
supervisors are willing to go to the clinic. Others join
A.A. or place themselves under care of their own physicians.
Visits to the clinic cost the patient $2 each, and active
treatment usually runs from six months to a year. Treatment
consists mainly of individual psychiatric therapy, group
psychotherapy in which about 12 patients may discuss their
problems, treatment with such drugs as disulfiram (Antabuse),
referral to A.A. in some instances, and hospitalization
for acute cases.
Andrew B. Holmstrom, vice-president at Norton, says ' "Our
rehabilitation programs have decreased lost time, improved
morale and, most important, we know we have helped out many
Reader's Digest, August 1958)