Business takes steps to stop the alcoholism drain

The newly married couple looks out at the camera, the glow of high hopes and expectations in their faces; the headline over them, however, solemnly intones: "Till death or drinking do they part."

This picture, raising questions of connubiality less than blissful is part of an ad in Time magazine place by ITT, drawing attention to its Employee Assistance Program. Alcoholism, the ad says, breaks up 1 out of every 12 marriages. And, as the managers at ITT have learned, when employees have problems, their job performance suffers.

To deal with less-than-satisfactory job performance due to either alcholism, drug abuse, or marital and financial problems, ITT and a lot of other companies have set up employee assistance programs.

According to a study made in 1979, 56.7 percent of the Fortune 500 companies reported they had such programs. Since then, more have been established and more companies are interested in setting them up. "We get inquiries all the time," reports William Dunkin, director of labor-management services at the National Council on Alcoholism Inc.

The NCA, a nonprofit organization, has worked with unions as well as large and small corporations setting up such EAPs. The basic thrust of the EAP, says Mr. Dunkin, is to provide a structure so the corporation and the employee can go about getting professional help for the problem.

For example, at ITT, says Robert Rosse, a consultant to ITT's world-headquarters progrma, the program focuses on job performance. "We don't want the managers to diagnose the problem," says Mr. Rosse, "but they can say if an employee is doing his or her job effectively. Then we ask them to document the problem and sit down and go over the documented evidence with the employee." Then the employee sees a member of the EAP and is referred to professional help in their community.

At Pitney-Bowes Inc. in Stamford, Conn., William Redgate, vice-president-employee relations, says the EAP staff screens referrals to determine if the company has the expertise to handle the problem internally or if it should be referred to an outside service, The Alcoholism Council in Cos Cob, Conn.

"The whole process is kept very confidential," says Mr. Redgate, adding, "the person must understand that we will help them but they have to improve their job performance. "If there is no progress, the company resorts to its normal pattern of warning the employee before termination proceedings begin.

Although the Pitney-Bowes program is in its first year, the company says it has already handled 150 cases. According to the company, industry statistics indicate that between 10 and 15 percent of most employees have serious personal or emotional problems. With a work force of 5,500 at its Connecticut headquarters, the company expects to handle at least 550 cases.

By far the biggest corporate problem, says Tom Stele of the Cos Cob Alcholism Council, is alcoholism or drug addiction. Generally corporations find that between one-third and one-half of all employees problems are drug or alcohol related, one-third family related and the rest financially or legally related. "The day of plastic money has caught up with us," explains Mr. Stele, "and people's debts can pile up."

Mr. Dunkin notes that even the distillers have found themselves caught in the problem. At Anheuser-Busch Inc., he says, the company is trying to get the unions to relinquish the "beer break," since the company has found it has a fairly high incidence of alcoholism.

For the company that does cut down on its employees problems there are some tangible rewards. Not only does productivity increase, but insurance costs come down. Mr. Stele notes that the US Tobacco Company, headquartered in Greenwich, Conn., found that after its second year of an EAP it had large savings in insurance claims. With a large sales force on the road all the time, it found its liability insurance rates falling. Additionally, its medical costs declined and absenteeism fell. "It just made good business sense," says Mr. Steel, "to set up a program."

The time clock is slowing down. According to Jerome M. Rosow, president of the Work in America Institute, the 1980s may be the decade "in which Americans free themselves from the tyranny of the time clock."

The trend has already started. As of May 1980 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports some 12 percent of all full-time nonfarm wage and salary workers in the US were on flexible work schedules.By 1990 the institute estimates, 25 percent of this work force will be on flexible schedules, 5 percent will be on a compressed workweek (compared to 2.7 percent now), and 28 percent will be either working part time, job sharing, or work sharing.

After an 18 month study the institute, a nonprofit organization that has an interest in improving productivity and the quality of working life, recently made 50 recommendations to business, labor, and government policymakers on the planning and implementation of new work schedules. The biggest obstacle to new work schedules, says the institute, is the "autocratic tradition of supervision." To counter this custom, the institute suggests, "Begin conservatively and be certain that the employees themselves and the unions, if they are involved, participate in the planning process."

The reward for corporations shifting to flexible work schedules, concludes the institute, is increased productivity with little if any capital investment. Recruiting becomes easier, overtime drops, and there are fewer absences and higher morale.

For a copy of the institute's report, write to Work In America Institute, 700 White Plains Road, SCarsdale, N.Y. 10583. ($10.95 for the report and $4.95 for an executive summary. The set is $13.95.) In November the institute will have available a casebook detailing 40 actual cases where new work schedules have been used.

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