Over the course of the last decade, statistics have shown of the entire population of American adults who have drug abuse problems, at least 60% of them are gainfully employed in full-time jobs at any given time. While some employers may believe it’s none of their business how employees spend their time do off the clock, or with their own bodies, there are many reasons why drug abuse can negatively affect the workplace as a whole.
Substance Abuse Makes Your Workplace Worse
Here are some ways that employees who have substance abuse problems can negatively affect your workplace:
- Their decision-making abilities are impaired, leading them to make dangerous, unethical, or less efficient choices.
- Their motor skills, depth perception, and reaction times may be dulled, leading to dangerous situations for them, their fellow employees, and your clients.
- They are more likely to miss work according to many studies, some of which were performed by OSHA. This can lead to work orders that were late or incomplete, and burn out for your other employees who have to cover the extra work.
- Because they are more likely to be involved in a workplace accident, substance abusers are more likely to file claims for compensation, which can be expensive for employers.
- Substance abuse often leads to changes in behavior and emotional state, which can lead to tense workplace conflict, irritability and impatience with customers, and an overall attitude that doesn’t reflect your company’s values.
These are just some of the ways that substance abuse can cause issues for your entire workplace.
Before we go on, it’s important to differentiate between substance abuse and substance dependence. A person who abuses drugs or alcohol is someone who has a hard time controlling the urge to use the substance; they may have tried to quit, but failed, and they typically use the substance with regularity. They may even feel as though they need the substance to function.
Someone who is substance dependent experiences similar feelings and patterns, but they are also a person who will experience even more negative side effects. They probably need more of the substance to get the same results that they used to; they will experience physical withdrawal symptoms if they go without, such as high blood pressure and vomiting; and their use of this substance becomes their main priority, far above any other activities or pleasures in life.
As we discuss how you can help improve your workplace by curbing drug abuse, we are specifically discussing those people who abuse the substance. Those who are substance dependent may benefit from some of these ideas, but it is far more likely that those people need serious medical intervention and rehabilitation before they can function properly without the substance.
Starting with Your Office Policy
Now more than ever, it is vital to have a very specific company policy on drug use. In the past, a blanket statement of “no illegal drug use” was good enough. But these days, prescription pain-killers are just as likely to be abused as illegal substances, and can cause just as many negative issues for your workplace.
It’s also very hard to give any sort of measure of how much is tolerated. While you can very easily say, “You can’t be drunk on the job,” and define drunk just like the state does with blood-alcohol levels, you can’t say, “You can only be a little bit high.” There is no measure of where an unsafe amount of drugs may be.
Instead, it’s important to lay out exactly what type of substance abuse is not tolerated and to provide a clear statement on how prescription medications are to be handled. Many employers discuss with their employees the importance of asking their doctor for non-opioid options when they must take pain-killers, for example. Your company policy should outline as many situations as you can possibly conceive of so that everyone knows the expectations when it comes to substance use and maintaining their job with your company.
Get Your Employees Working for You
This step may sound a little confusing at first: of course, your employees are working for you. That’s why they are employees, right? But what this means is to train your managers to recognize the signs of substance abuse, and make watching for these signs part of their regular duties. Your on-the-floor managers, those supervisors who work most closely with the workforce, should be on the lookout for the mood swings, the constant tardiness, the inability to work with others, and the impaired physical and mental skills that can indicate drug abuse. Likewise, their supervisors should be watching them, all the way up to the very top of the company.
Within the employee group itself, you should have an assistance program in place that creates an open door for employees to report any disturbing signs they may notice themselves; this program should also be a way for employees, who recognize that they themselves need help, can come to you for it. In fact, almost all Fortune 500 companies have an employee assistance program in place. This program is not in place to get anyone into “trouble”, to create “snitches”, or to weed out “disloyal” employees; rather, it should be seen as a caring, voluntary intervention program, where employees all have a stake in making their workplace safer, more productive, and happier for everyone.
Random Drug Testing
If you don’t already have a random drug testing policy in place, now is a good time to implement one. The fear of losing their job, being docked in pay, or being written up, is amplified when employees don’t know when drug tests are coming. This also makes it much harder for employees to fake passing results.
In fact, almost 30 years ago, the United States government began giving all armed forces members random drug tests. When they started the initiative, more than 30% of members tested positively. Over the three decades of random tests, the number of positive results dropped to barely 2%. This has made the armed forces safer and more effective for all members.
The important thing is that your testing must be truly random so that no pattern can be discerned and “gamed”. This may mean that you test everyone in the company on the first Friday of the month in June, and then test half on July 19 and the other half on July 22. The best way to accomplish this is to use a random number generator each month to give you a date, or multiple dates, to test on.
Be sure that you test through a lab that is certified by a state or federal agency, so that the results can never be called into question. You should also have a very clear policy on how drug tests are to be administered, and this policy should be signed by every employee to prevent any future misunderstandings. Drug testing should be documented, and at least initialed by both the employee and the administering supervisor that everything went according to policy. If you don’t intend to test for a wide spectrum of drugs, then it’s best to research the area your company is located, find out what substances are most commonly used, and focus on those.