Worried Your Direct Report Is a Substance Abuser? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I run a large team of developers. I am really concerned about one young man who has been with me for about a year. 

My crew seems to party pretty hard on the weekends, which I figure is none of my business.  The guy I am worried about negotiated at his first big review to work from home, which a lot of people do on occasion. I agreed because his work is consistently good and he is faster than almost everyone else.

One day last week, he wasn’t responding to my texts. I finally called him and when he picked up the phone he sounded like he was high.  On top of this, he often texts me in the wee hours of the morning with thoughts and ideas that are not necessarily coherent. 

I think the kid may have a substance abuse problem.  I guess I am supposed to go to HR, but I prefer to warn him and not involve the official people.

What do you think?


Dear Worried,

Well, you might start by reviewing your manager’s manual to ascertain when exactly you need go to HR.  There may be a link on your intranet that you have never visited.  At the very least, start documenting the odd behaviors—dates, times, specifics.

And then, absolutely, talk to him. That is your job.  Be direct.  Be sure you don’t accuse—just share your observations.  You don’t know if he has a problem. What you do know is that he is not all there during work hours.  You can tell him you don’t feel he is on his game when he works from home, and insist that he be accessible by IM or text during work hours.  Tell him that his after-hours texts seem odd to you, and request that he submit any thoughts or ideas in a coherent format during working hours. The 24/7 thing should be reserved for deadlines and emergencies.  Just be direct. Tell your truth without blame or judgment.  If he is smart, he will understand that it is a warning and he will clean up his act.  If he isn’t, or if it becomes obvious he is an addict, you will have to involve HR.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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