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How to deal with the risk of workplace gambling

The dust has settled from the race that stops the nation. But in a nation that loves its sports, it’s not long before the next gambling opportunity rolls around. So how do you distinguish between harmless fun and harmful addiction?

For most of us, events like the Melbourne Cup mean nothing more than an afternoon spent at the pub with our colleagues and a workplace sweepstake, gambling away a few dollars with hope of the sweet taste of victory. But for some, gambling in the workplace – for a horse race, the Grand Prix or the grand final – takes a much darker turn. 

When gambling affects the workplace

A 2014 NSW Government report found that 25 per cent of gamblers said that the activity affected their work. Estimates indicate that gambling issues could cost Australia $4.7 billion each year in lost productivity.

As many people won’t admit or are in denial that they have a problem with gambling, it’s hard to give exact figures on how many people are affected. But the NSW report estimates that between 80,000 and 160,000 suffer from serious gambling issues, and between 230,000 and 350,000 more are at risk of developing compulsive behaviour around gambling.

That’s just the broad picture. On a personal scale, the impact that compulsive gambling can have on a business and other employees are concerning.

Disruptive work patterns such as long lunch hours and repeated absenteeism results in reduced productivity and lower quality of work, as well as affecting colleagues who cover for them. It could also impact on customer service and damage a company’s reputation.

The individual employee might be tired, which increases the likelihood that they make mistakes. Financial problems raises the risk of dishonesty, as well as leading to conditions such as depression and low self-esteem.

How to tell if your employee has a gambling issue

Problem gambling can impact a range of areas of work. Here are some of the warning signs that your employee might need help:

1. Time

  • Arriving late to work/leaving work early or taking long lunch hours
  • Unexplained disappearances or increased absenteeism
  • Unusual or predictable sick leave pattern
  • Gambling on company time (work computer, mobile, telephone)

2. Productivity

  • Irritability, poor concentration, moodiness
  • Inattentive
  • Changes in productivity/work not completed
  • Misuse/excessive use of work telephone or internet

3. Financial

  • Borrowing money from colleagues
  • Employer constantly approached for salary advances
  • Repeated credit loans/owes money to loan sharks/called at work by companies chasing payment
  • Constantly volunteering for overtime/additional shifts to cover debts/pay for living expenses/gamble

4. Criminal

  • Stealing money/goods from work colleagues
  • Fraudulent expense claims – embezzlement

5. Other

  • Rarely takes holidays so backfill to cover their job isn’t required (illegal financial activity might be uncovered)
  • Form guides/sporting newspapers on work desk or constantly on betting websites

How to discuss it

Discussing something like this can be hard and confronting for the employee. However, if you follow these steps, you’re more likely to have a positive outcome.

  • Normalise the conversation by acknowledging that sometimes having a difficult conversation is necessary in the workplace.
  • Express facts, thoughts, feelings and beliefs without placing blame.
  • Focus on “I” rather than “you” statements.
  • Listen actively to what the employee has to say by paraphrasing and summarising.
  • Be understanding – acknowledge the emotions present.
  • Plan your responses beforehand based on how the employee is likely to react.

The consequences of ignoring workplace gambling can be significant for both your workplace and your staff. Make sure to nip the issue in the bud.

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Carmel Ross
Carmel Ross

Thank you for this article, it’s helpful and timely especially now that gambling is so easily accessed via online portals. A related and possibly less visible problem that might show up in the workplace is the effect of gambling on other family members, esepecially the spouse/partner. If they are aware of the problem they may be experiencing high levels of stress because of the loss of family income (I’ve never heard of a gambling addict who makes money from it…). If they are not aware of the gambling, then they may suddenly find one day that they no longer own… Read more »

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