That office betting pool might not be such a good idea after all.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, as many as 12 million Americans could have some sort of gambling problem. And it turns out at least some of that gambling could be happening in the workplace, either through office pools or through online gambling.
“There is some blocking software available, so administrators can take some steps,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Online gambling is one of the most visible signs of gambling problems among employees and perhaps one of the most easily remedied. But the fact remains many signs are not as apparent, which put employers in a difficult position for identifying and getting help for employees in need of it.
The first thing to keep in mind is that gambling can be addictive. However, the social stigma of it being a personal problem makes some employers reluctant to address it in the same way they might address depression or drug addiction among employees.
“While many offices will not have a policy (addressing problem gambling), or look on something like a college betting pool as a team-building thing, be aware that for some people that can be an addiction,” Whyte said.
Just how common is it? Roughly 66 percent of callers to one Employee Assistance Program indicated that employees gamble in the workplace, according to data collected by the council. At the same time, 46 percent of callers said it negatively impacts workplace productivity.
Warning signs of problem gambling include borrowing money from coworkers, unexplained financial problems, substance abuse and mental health problems, mood swings due to winning and losing streaks and suggestions by co-workers that an employee has a gambling problem.
Employees with gambling problems might make excessive use of telephones to call bookies or get credit, take company vehicles to casinos and other gambling establishments, regularly arrive late to work, refuse to take days off, organize betting pools among co-workers and, in perhaps the worst cases, embezzle and defraud customers to get money.
Sometimes distinguishing between problem gambling and other mental health problems isn’t easy.
“The hard part is (the symptoms) are the same for anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue,” said Steve Burton of the Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia. “The difference is the need for money.”
That’s why experts recommend making problem gambling one of a host of health issues for which employers offer assistance. They should have brochures and posters in the workplace directing employees to places they can get help, including the hotline 1-800-GAMBLER. Plus, experts say employers can schedule workshops or luncheons to address the issue of problem gambling and other mental health issues.
“The key to it all is to have information in the workplace,” Burton said.