Earlier this week, I was interviewed by the BBC about whether organisations should help individuals who have gambling problems and whether they should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. Most of us work in organisations that have policies on behaviours such as drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking. However, very few companies have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. One problem gambler in a position of financial trust can bring down a whole organisation – Nick Leeson being a case in point when he single-handedly brought down Barings Bank). Leeson’s (albeit somewhat extreme) antics demonstrate that organisations need to acknowledge that gambling with company money can be disastrous for the company if things go horribly wrong. While no company expects an employee gambling to bring about their collapse, Leeson’s case does at least highlight gambling as an issue that companies ought to think about in terms of risk assessment.
Gambling is a popular leisure activity and national UK surveys into gambling participation show that around two-thirds of adults’ gamble annually and that problem gambling affects approximately 0.5% of the British population (although the prevalence rates for adolescents can be three to four rimes higher). There are a number of socio-demographic factors associated with problem gambling. These included being male, having a parent who was or who has been a problem gambler, being single, and having a low income. Other research shows that those who experience unemployment, poor health, housing, and low educational qualifications have significantly higher rates of problem gambling than the general population.
It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy. There can also be adverse health consequences for both the problem gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders.
For most people, gambling is not a serious problem and in some cases may even be of benefit in team building and/or creating a collegiate atmosphere in the workplace (e.g., National Lottery syndicates, office sweepstakes). However, for those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. Typically problem gambling at work can lead to many negative “warning signs” such as misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunches, late to work, leaving early from work, unusual vacation patterns, unexplained sick leave, internet and telephone misuse, etc. However, new forms of gambling, such as gambling via the internet or smartphones at work, means that many of these warning signs are unlikely to be picked up. However, just because problem gambling is difficult to spot does not mean that managers should not include it in risk assessments and/or planning procedures. Listed below are some practical steps that can be taken to help minimise the potential problem.
- Take the issue of gambling seriously. Gambling (in all its many forms) has not been viewed as an occupational issue at any serious level. Managers, in conjunction with Human Resources Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issue and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organisation. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, the consequences for the company should that person be a problem gambler can be very great.
- Raise awareness of gambling issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Most countries (including the UK) have national and /or local gambling agencies that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organisations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
- Ask employees to be vigilant. Problem gambling at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend a problem gambler, and the organisation itself. Fellow staff members need to know the signs and symptoms of problem gambling. Employee behaviours such as asking to borrow money all the time might be indicative of a gambling problem.
- Give employees access to diagnostic gambling checklists. Make sure that any literature or poster within the workplace includes a self-diagnostic checklist so that employees can check themselves to see if they might have (or be developing) a gambling problem.
- Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and internet content of their employees. One of the easiest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are gambling on the internet regularly, internet gambling sites are almost certainly likely to be bookmarked.
- Develop a “Gambling at Work” policy. As mentioned at the start of this blog, many organisations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol in the workplace. Employers should develop their own gambling policies by liaison between Human Resource Services and local gambling agencies. A risk assessment policy in relation to gambling would also be helpful.
- Give support to identified problem gamblers. Most large organisations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. Problem gambling needs to be treated sympathetically (like other more bona fide addictions such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of workplace gambling.
Problem gambling can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet gambling and gambling via smartphone or tablets is making it easier to gamble from the workplace. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people, gambling is not a serious problem. For those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues (and in extreme cases cause major problems for the company as a whole). Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Gambling is a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue. Although not high on the list for most employers, the issues highlighted here suggest that it should at least be on the list somewhere.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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