The Impact of an Education and Training Program on Attitudes of Employees toward Co-Workers with AIDS

Article excerpt

The presence of AIDS education and training programs in the workplace has been well reported (Magnus, 1988; Watts, 1988; Brown, 1991; Pryor, Reeder, & McManus, 1991). Most of these reports have discussed employer and employee concerns about persons with AIDS and the need for an effective AIDS policy (Magnus, 1988; Scheerhorn, 1995). Since 1991, many organizations have developed an AIDS policy that includes employee education and training for two fairly different and distinct reasons. One is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes AIDS and other contagious diseases as a disability (Scheerhorn, 1995; Breuer, 1995) that must be accommodated. The other reason for AIDS education and training programs is the belief that employee fears about AIDS could result in negative attitudes and destructive behavior at work (George, Reed, Ballard, Colin, & Fielding, 1993; Montgomery & Lewis, 1995; Breuer, 1995; Kemp, 1995; Mello, 1995), which could be overcome by education (Minetos, 1989).

Despite frequent corporate education and training programs and a growing literature base, there is little data or systematic analysis regarding (1) the impact of HIV/AIDS on the social environment at work; (2) whether there are changes in the interactive relations of employees towards co-workers with HIV/AIDS; and, (3) whether HIV/AIDS education and training has a significant impact on employee attitudes toward co-workers with HIV/AIDS. We seek to make a first step toward filling this void.

Background

HIV/AIDS in the workplace has been of ongoing interest for employers due to the realization that almost every organization, at some point, will be confronted with employee concerns related to communicable diseases (Kemp, 1995; Mello, 1995). A major method of allaying employee concerns has been to provide education and training related to the disease (Pryor et al., 1991; Kemp, 1995). The assumptions underlying the education and training programs include the beliefs that knowledge about transmission of contagious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and others, and an awareness of the precautions necessary to limit any danger related to worker interaction, along with removing the social stigma attached to the disease will together limit the negative impact in the workplace from an individual with a communicable disease (Pincus & Triverdi, 1994; Scheerhorn, 1995; Mello, 1995). Some of the documented behaviors and attitudes resulting from the presence of HIV positive co-workers have included anxiety, suspicion, c ommunication breakdowns, walkouts, sabotage, diminished productivity, and discrimination (George et al., 1993; Montgomery & Lewis, 1995; Breuer, 1995; Kemp, 1995; Mello, 1995).

Even though education has been promoted as the key to overcoming worker concerns, little empirical data appear to exist to substantiate that view (Keeton, 1993; Gopolan & Summers, 1994; Scheerhorn, 1995). Some recent studies have suggested that education programs may not, in fact, be as effective as their proponents had believed in modifying employee attitudes (Keeton, 1993; Gopalon & Summers, 1994). While most studies have supported the conclusion that greater employee knowledge of AIDS resulted in fewer negative views of co-workers with AIDS (Bordwin, 1995; Kemp, 1995), these studies were not experimental and instead used survey and secondary data. Further, at least one major study (Keeton, 1993 found that training providing knowledge of disease transmission, proper means of interaction, and other relevant data did not significantly reduce employee fears.

We began our research without questioning the premise that education about AIDS and other communicable diseases was a worthwhile activity. We did question whether such programs were having the impact ascribed to them by most researchers. Since no controlled-experimental analysis known to us had been undertaken to determine the efficacy of such programs, we undertook to analyze the impact of AIDS education and training on employee attitudes and behavior towards co-workers with HIV/AIDS. …