Q: My long-term best friend and business partner of two years races around the workplace in the mornings driving everyone crazy. It's like he's a pot of spaghetti sauce on high boil. He makes changes to procedures, launches new initiatives and, when I tell him he's making too many changes too fast, he accuses me of holding the business back.
At other times, he nods off at his desk. Last week I let him know I caught him dozing and he told me he was thinking with his eyes closed. Yesterday afternoon when I gently nudged his shoulder, he leapt out of his chair and had his hands to my throat. I'm a big guy, and so no harm, no foul but I need to know how to handle this.
I suspect he uses cocaine or other drugs. His former wife confirmed this last year and told me that's what broke up their marriage. At the time, I tried to talk with him about what she'd said, but he told me "butt out, it's my problem."
My wife tells me I need to get an attorney and force him out of the business. I don't want to do this and also know he'll put up a fight. I'd like a better option.
A: If you don't want to legally force him out of your company, you need to force the issue before things get even worse. It moved from being "his" problem to yours when it began impacting your business and partnership. What if he'd put his hands around an employee's throat? What if he gets in a wreck in a company vehicle on work time?
In the workplace, cocaine and other drug abuse shows up in erratic, unpredictable performance and errors of judgment. Cocaine users get a temporary energy burst and an physical/emotional "high." During their high, users often feel like they can solve every problem and like they know more than anyone else. This can lead to arrogance, grandstanding and a failure to listen to those who try to rein them in. Cocaine users have more accidents than others because coke use reinforces reckless behavior. After a period of excitement and manic activity, users generally experience fatigue and depression and can feel irritable and nervous.
While you don't know your partner is abusing cocaine and can't rely on the report from an ex-spouse, you have good behavioral reason to suspect a problem. If he uses cocaine and his job requires him to make judgment calls or manage areas such as driving vehicles or handling equipment or people safely, he places himself, other people, your business and you at risk. Workplace consultant Carolynn Jerome at Avitus Group also warns, "You need to realize your partner's behavior sends a problem message to your employees about him and also about you as a leader and what you'll allow in the workplace."
Further, if you suspect he abuses cocaine and you let him drive, work around equipment or handle situations that need full attention and concentration, or make judgment calls that impact the future of your or your client's businesses, you may be liable for his actions. In other words, you now have two partners, your best friend and coke or whatever drugs he's using.
You can support your friend and do him and your business a service if you help your partner get help. Look in your phone book under "drug abuse" or call the national referral hotline 800-COCAINE or 800-662-HELP. You also need to decide where, when and how you'll draw the line. If he refuses to get help and you allow it, you enable him, leaving yourself, other individuals and your business at risk.