Workplace the Statistics Are Sobering. The Occupational Research Paper

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¶ … Workplace

The statistics are sobering. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration estimates that of America's 17.2 million illicit drug users, three quarters are employed either full-time or part-time. Combine this with abusers of prescription drugs and alcohol and it is apparent that substance abuse in the workplace is a serious problem for American employers. Indeed, between 10 and 20% of workplace deaths are related to drugs or alcohol, and the industries with the highest rates of drug use are also those with the highest risk for workplace injuries (OSHA, 2010). Beyond the physical harm, substance abuse is also linked to productivity issues stemming from increased absenteeism, decreased performance and crime. In 1998, productivity losses from substance abuse cost American businesses an estimated $97.7 billion (Gmel & Rehm, 2003). No workplace is immune, but this is a problem that can be addressed. This paper will examine the issue of substance abuse in the workplace at its roots, and use that understanding to derive a policy prescription that will help my company. It is hypothesized that stronger social controls, combined with tougher company policy, can decrease the social and economic impacts of substance abuse in my current workplace.

The Issue

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Substance abuse is defined as substance use that has the following impacts -- failure to fulfill major obligations at work or home; continued abuse even in situations when it is physically hazardous; use that creates legal problems; and use that leads to recurrent social or interpersonal problems (Gmel & Rehm, 2003). With respect to the first impact, abuse is specifically associated with absenteeism, performance reduction, causing injury or death and other negative impacts. The prevalence of substance abuse in American society has resulted in these impacts being felt broadly in the economy and in nearly every workplace.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Workplace the Statistics Are Sobering. The Occupational Assignment

Nearly seventy percent of substance abusers hold a job (FSIPP, 2010). Employers are often hesitant to address the issue because of the high cost of replacing employees, or because the employee is valuable to the firm (Jaffer et al., 2008). However, the increased risks and decreased productivity associated with substance abuse means that the issue needs to be addressed. This is especially true given that substance abuse is increasing. Since 2005, for example, prescription opiate use among American workers has increased by 40% (FSIPP, 2010). With these rates of prevalence, employers are often compelled to hire or retain workers with substance abuse problems for lack of a better alternative.

In our company, many of the impacts of substance abuse in the workplace can be seen. Although the company has thankfully been able to avoid injury and death from such abuse, absenteeism is high among some employees and this impacts total productivity. There are also negative affects of the morale of other workers, who feel as though they are forced to cover for their drunk, drugged or absent co-workers. There is a sense that management is either unwilling or unprepared to address the problem. Trouble employees are often perceived as being able to fool management as well, meaning that many in the company believe management is unable to understand the full scope of the problem. This contrasts not only with the objective of maintaining a healthy working environment, but it also contrasts with the prevailing laws, most of which demand some form of action -- either preventative or corrective -- on the part of management under the Drug-Free Workplace Act (SAMHSA, 2010).

Addressing the Issue

The first step to addressing the issue of substance abuse in the workplace is to be able to identify the problem. Keleman (1995) identifies a number of key signs -- performance problems, appearance (in particular dilated pupils and lack of physical upkeep), lack of coordination, inappropriate mood swings, psychomotor agitation and thought disturbances. When an employee is suspected of substance abuse, the problem should be addressed immediately. Often, employers are hesitant to address an abuse problem with an employee while the employee is high or drunk. Yet failure to do so could open the company to litigation if that employee were to injure a third party, so immediate action is critical.

Another critical means of identifying abusers is the field test. Randomized testing of employees on the job is correlated with higher outcomes for identifying abusers, which in turn lowers the company's legal risk. When employees are aware of a testing problem, they are more likely to avoid abusing drugs or alcohol around work times (Cook, Back & Trudeau, 1996). While this may not entirely solve the problem, it does reduce the risk to the employer.

Beyond immediate action, companies can reduce the impact that substance abuse has in the workplace through a number of social controls. Organizational policies are a critical component of social controls to reduce the incidence of substance abuse in the workplace. There is evidence of effectiveness of zero tolerance policies. Such policies not only provide the company with a mechanism for enforcing a drug-free workplace, but they also create a strong social norm within the organizational culture that discourages substance abuse. Mehay and Pacula (1999) showed evidence that zero tolerance policies, when combined with randomized testing, provided a significant deterrent effect, resulting in a reduction of drug prevalence rates.

Workplace training and education levels also help to set social norms within the organization. Ultimately, the objective of training is to ensure that all employees are aware of the company's policies. This is expected to contribute to the development of an organization culture that discourages drug use in the workplace. While there is some stigma attached to most illicit drugs, this issue is of particular concern with respect to prescription drugs and alcohol, which by their legal nature face less social stigma that illicit drugs. Reynolds, Lehman and Bennett (2008) showed that increased workforce training was the highest correlate for increased social stigma regarding drinking in the workplace. This highlights the important role that training has in reducing substance abuse in the workplace.

The money that a corporation spends on its substance abuse prevention programs also sends a signal to the employees with respect to the degree to which such behavior will be tolerated. In addition to basic training and testing programs, intervention services are another investment that is prescribed to help companies address abuse. Intervention services such as counseling, self-help programs and corporate spending on third-party substance abuse programs is sometimes overlooked by employers because of the high up-front costs, but such programs should be viewed as a form of corporate investment. If corporations are reluctant to address abusing employees because of the value of those employees or the replacement costs associated with termination, then companies should consider as an alternative helping that employee to overcome his or her abuse problems. Higher levels of prevention and intervention spending should result in lower levels of substance abuse in the workplace, while allowing companies to retain valuable employees (Cook & Schlenger, 2002).

Expected Outcomes

The above prescriptions -- increased training, zero tolerance, randomized testing and increased corporate investment in prevention and intervention initiatives -- have all been demonstrated effective in dealing with the issue of substance abuse in the workplace. The negative outcomes to organizations that are associated with substance abuse, therefore, are expected to be reduced. For example, it is expected based on the prevailing literature that the rate of injuries in an organization will decline following the introduction of randomized testing (Miller, Zaloshnja & Spicer, 2006).

The critical outcome is believed to be with respect to the organizational culture. The tolerance level for substance abuse in the workplace can be high, but when social norms are adjusted so that substance abuse is no longer tolerated by the workforce, all outcomes are expected to improve. The Miller, Zaloshnja and Spicer (2006) study illustrated the effectiveness of changing organizational culture -- a peer-based substance abuse prevention program when combined with randomized testing was correlated with a reduction in injuries for example. The use of peers engages the entire company in the prevention program by empowering employees to set their own social norms and encouraging them to do so in a manner that discourages substance abuse.

It is also expected that absenteeism will be reduced through these strategies. In particular, when co-workers are engaged to support co-workers with abuse problems, absenteeism and abuse episodes are reduced (Bacharach, Bamberger & Biron, 2010). The current climate in our organization is that co-workers only mildly stigmatize abusive co-workers but they also do not provide a climate of support. It is felt that with an improved climate for support, co-workers with abuse programs will be more likely to address those issues with the company; in a climate of stigmatization they may simply hide the issue, which correlates with absenteeism.

Lastly, productivity improvements are expected as a result of implementing these policy prescriptions. Improving absenteeism rates, employee retention rates and reducing accident rates are all individually correlated with improving productivity, as is the reduction of substance abuse in the workplace in general. Miller, Zaloshnja and Spicer (2006) showed that $1,850 in cost… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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