When too much fun is too much
Employers learn alcohol, drug issues to help employees
By Chris Woodall
In a place where every night can be like Friday night, Whistler's party life sometimes traps people in a vortex that leads to drinking or drug abuse.
But if the worst happens and the fun life simply gets away from you, your manager or supervisor may be your life style saver.
Employers are more often coming around to see that they have a role to play in helping their staff get a grip on their personal lives.
Two seminars at the Tantalus Lodge, Nov. 25 and Dec. 5, address alcohol and drug issues in the workplace for employers who've perhaps seen their employees slip into performance problems, but aren't sure how to deal with them.
Large corporations like the mountain ski corporations and the major hotels have been conducting their own training for managers, during the past year or so.
Smaller businesses, however, may have found the cost to have their own seminar too prohibitive. That's where brewery giant Labatt’s comes in as major sponsor of the two seminars. Mountain Community Health Alternatives is a co-sponsor. Call them at 938-3181 to book a place.
"It's easy to get sucked into the drug and alcohol scene," says Mary Ann Rolfe, the Whistler drug and alcohol counsellor for the Garibaldi Coast Health Unit.
For a lot of people, it's a way to combat loneliness. For young adults, it may be their first time away from home in a major way and they've latched onto anything that gives them a sense of belonging.
Sex issues come into play, too, says Rolfe. "If you're drinking a lot, you may not be paying attention to what you're doing" as far as who you sleep with, or not using condoms or other protection.
Alcohol and drug abuse play a significant role in sexual assaults, too, among couples; as well as the "Saturday night fights" often seen in the conference centre parking lot after the bars close.
For the employer, he or she can see the effects of a staff person's bingeing or addiction. The employee's performance drops off, he or she often comes to work looking in rough shape, the worker is increasingly testy with fellow staff — or worse — with customers, the employee phones in sick a lot... all these are indications that something is wrong, Rolfe says.
"Other signs are a loss of their old interests," she says. "For example, the person who came here to ski and now doesn't ski at all."
The best thing an employer can do is to leave an opening for the employee to make the first move to seek help, says Whistler psychologist Steve Milstein.
"The employer walks a fine line between being intrusive and trying to assist problem staff," Milstein says. "If you see that work performance is suffering, offer a chance to talk about it."
If an employee has a problem that seems alcohol or drug related, the manager shouldn't ignore it, Milstein says.
As for the staff, there is the social stigma attached to being a "known drunk" or pot head. And they will fear that revealing they are in over their head will lead to getting fired.
"Be supportive so people will put their problems on the table," Milstein says. "Confidentiality is a big thing here. It could be there is some other kind of emotional problem that the abuse is a symptom of."
The employer should be a funnel and motivator to get help and assistance to the employee, Milstein says.
At Whistler Mountain, new employees are given a little talk about life in Whistler and what the pitfalls can be, says Gord Ahrens, director of employee relations.
"We also talk to our managers about what happens when an employee has a substance abuse problem," Ahrens says. The ski corporation offers a seminar for managers and supervisors three times year.
"It's our corporate responsibility. It's not that we have a problem with employees and substance abuse, but it's out there so any tools you have helps," Ahrens says.
And there is a lot of help out there.
It costs nothing, for example, to seek out the alcohol and drug counsellor. "It's a free and confidential service," says Rolfe, who'll leave in mid-December to be replaced by Judy Fletcher. "We will phone back if you've left a message.
"Never think you're going to waste somebody's time by talking to them," Rolfe says.
Need help? Thinking of it?
Here are some contacts for you:
o Alcohol and drug counsellor: Contact her through the medical centre at 932-3202.
o Alcoholics Anonymous: They meet Monday and Saturday at the Skiers Chapel, 8 p.m. sharp; on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at 2nd floor, medical centre; or Thursday, 8 p.m., Mount Currie medical centre.
o AL-ANON: Call Sara at 932-2856 for information.
o SAFE (Sexual Awareness for Everyone): Drop in at Health Care Centre, or call 932-3202 for appointment.
o Emotional or physical abusive relationship? Call collect to (604) 894-6101 (Squamish).
oCrisis Line: 932-COPE (932-2673).
o Your family doctor. Whistler's doctors are trained in mental health issues and can guide you to solutions.