"I'm aware that some of my people smoke marijuana in the vacant lot across the street during lunch breaks," admitted a supervisor. "But I don't think it is a serious problem. They certainly aren't impaired when they come back to work."
Because of recent legislation, most managers are very sensitive to substance abuse within their organizations. However, the example above -- an actual one -- suggests that problems remain. In fact, recent research identifies the following common problems in dealing with substance abuse at work:
* DENIAL: Many managers, and a lot of employees as well, simply do not admit they have a problem. While the records in some companies show numerous examples of substance-abuse problems, managers too often respond, "No, we really don't have a problem in our company."
* TOO TOLERANT: Even when the symptoms of abuse present themselves clearly, too many managers do not face the problem. When the policy-violating employees have been with the organization several years, managers are particularly reluctant to confront them. Unfortunately, well-meaning attempts to give such employees another chance too often only allow them to fur
ther harm themselves.
* TOO LITTLE TESTING: Increased drug screening, particularly pre-employment screening, has proven effective in reducing substance abuse in companies that use it. Additionally, companies that test their people for cause, or engage in random testing, have far fewer substance problems.
* INAPPROPRIATE CONSEQUENCES: When managers do not ignore abuses, too often they simply terminate the employee. While termination may be the appropriate consequence in some cases, many companies find it economically practical to offer warnings and rehabilitation options.
* LACK OF SUPPORT: Of course, not every employee who violates the company's abuse policy is a bad person. A large percentage can be turned into effective,long-term employees when given proper support.Employee assistance programs have proven to be excellent investments for thousands of companies
Most managers are aware of substance-abuse issues,and most organizations today have effective policies. The next step is to effectively execute the policies
Gerald Graham is a professor at Wichita State University and a management consultant. Send questions to The Wichita Eagle, P.O. Box 820, Wichita, Kan. 67201.
Confronting substance abuse
Indicate whether you agree or disagree with each of the following:
Regarding substance abuse within my organization, I . . .
1. Am aware of an abuse that I did not report.
2. Think we may have overacted with our policies.
3. See little evidence of abuse adding to our costs.
4. Do not think it necessary to confront every minor abuse.
5. Think we should make allowances for long-term, good employees.
6. Think that testing would not be worth the effort.
7. Believe it is better to ignore minor violations.
8. Believe we should terminate flagrant abusers without giving them any options.
9. Think that rehabilitation options for most abusers would not help.
10. Think that an Employee Assistance Program is not (would not be) cost effective.
Interpretation. If you checked three or more "yes" answers, this may suggest that you are committing some of the common mistakes in confronting substance abuse.