Magazine article Supervisory Management

Drug Proofing the Workplace: A Guide for Supervisors

Magazine article Supervisory Management

Drug Proofing the Workplace: A Guide for Supervisors

Article excerpt

Drug Proofing the Workplace: A Guide for Supervisors

DEALING WITH AN EMPLOYEE WHO HAS A DRUG PROBLEM is not only more common today, it's also more legally cumbersome. Yet when the right steps to take are learned, supervisors will find it easy to help a drug user and salvage a true company asset--one of its employees.

Ted has a problem. He blows up over routine matters and minor criticism; he spends more time in the bathroom than other employees; he often comes to work late, unshaven and tired; his work displays more than the reasonable number of mistakes; you may even have noticed one or two unfamiliar people meeting him in the parking lot. You try to downplay your suspicions, but the problems persist. Like it or not, Ted may well have a drug problem.

The first thing you must understand as a supervisor is that from a management standpoint, the substance abuse problem of an employee is your problem also. A study conducted by Bruce Wilkinson of Workplace Consultants, Inc. found that the abuser is likely to be late for work three times more often than the nonabuser, use three times more sick time, and be involved in employee theft ten times more often.

In addition, left unchallenged, an addict will often turn to selling drugs to support his or her own habit. The only thing worse than a user in your workforce is a pusher.

What to look for

To effectively combat this growing problem, you must know what to look for. As a first- or second-line supervisor, you are the most likely person in the workplace to see evidence of an employee's drug use.

For instance, if you notice that an employee makes more trips to the restroom than other employees, and doesn't work to his or her potential when back on the job, there is a good possibility that you are witnessing the symptoms of marijuana or cocaine use. The restroom is used as a private place to take a "hit," and the work that follows will often be subpar, even if not conspicuously so.

As with many things, however, identifying the drug that is being abused is easier in theory than in practice. The reality is that there are literally hundreds of drugs subject to abuse. Even whittling the list down to the top three drugs abused in the workplace (alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana) doesn't help matters much, since many symptoms are common to two or all three. In addition, abusers often take these drugs in combinations, clouding the effects they produce. Your real responsibility as supervisor is simply to recognize and identify the drug user as soon as possible. The benefit of this is twofold. First, you help reduce the cost the company will absorb because of the employee's drug problem. Second, the sooner an abuser realizes he or she has a problem, the easier it will be for the person's body and mind to overcome the dependency.

It's important to remember, too, that the point of this detection is not to punish the user for his or her "evil ways," but rather to salvage both the employee and the years of training and experience that you and the company have invested in the individual. (The true cancer to your workforce is the dealer. When such a person is discovered, he or she should be removed from your company as soon as legally possible.)

Subtle symptoms

An informed eye can often detect substance abusers by noting subtle symptoms of behavior that would otherwise go unnoticed until they become more extreme.

The most obvious manifestations of substance abuse are the physical ones, such as red eyes or a decline in personal appearance. Users know this better than anyone else, however, and often make compensations, such as an alcoholic using breath mints to cover up the smell of liquor. Problems that the chemically addicted cannot so easily hide include mood swings, irritability, and decreased confidence, as well as the financial difficulty that often accompanies expensive habits. …

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