Substance Abuse and Work Productivity

Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

Regardless of the size of a business, it is still necessary for owners, managers and directors to be aware of the effects of substance abuse at work. The statistics speak for themselves and it is obvious that drugs and alcohol can have a severe impact on how an office, factory or store operates and functions. In the US, the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 75% of all illicit drug users were employed. Back then, this equated to a total of around 13.4 million people, which indicates that there was a fairly high chance of actually working with someone who abused drugs. In the same study, it was found that around 80% of adult binge drinkers were employed in either full or part-time positions. In Australia, the 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 4.4% of all employees went to work affected by alcohol and around 2% went to work affected by illicit drugs. On top of that, 6% of survey participants stated that the workplace was where they typically consumed alcohol on a regular basis.

Risks of Substance Abuse at Work

With the high incidence of drug and alcohol use within the workplace, it is not surprising that these activities come with some very high costs. In general, consumption of illicit drugs and/or alcohol can lead to the following negative effects when it comes to how a workplace runs and operates:

* Increased Rate of Absences
* More Fatalities and Injuries
* Loss of Productivity
* Termination of Employment
* Impaired Judgment and Decision-making
* Poor Team Morale and Staff Relations
* Unwanted Legal Complications

All of these can have severe consequences when it comes to the future prospects of the individual involved, their fellow staff and the success of the company. The amount of data collected in this area is quite vast as there is real concern that substance abuse can have a substantial affect on both the local and national level. The following statistics show the full extent of how these harmful activities can affect the average workplace:

* In Australia, those with drinking problems are three times more likely to be absent from work due to injury.
* In the UK, alcohol can be linked to around 25% of general work-related accidents and 60% of workplace fatalities.
* In Latvia, 10% of the country’s productivity losses can be attributed to alcohol consumption.
* In the UK, alcoholism accounts for the loss of 8 to 14 million working days each year.
* In the US, drug users are 2.2 times more likely to request time off and 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or another person at work.

Costs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Studies have also been done to determine the monetary costs of substance abuse when it comes to workplace productivity. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) conducted a survey in 2001 which showed that illicit drug use cost the country around US$121 billion in the year 2000 with 60% of that being due to lost workplace productivity. The definitions within the study meant that this number also included losses from other matters such as healthcare costs and legal fees. The total loss of productivity due to drug use within the survey actually stood at US$25 billion, which is still quite a substantial amount.

Additional studies have to be done in this area though to determine the actual cost. This is because most studies do not directly measure the connection between substance abuse and loss in workplace productivity. Instead, these statistics are usually inferred through other means and a better method must certainly be found in order to determine the full extent of how these harmful activities then affect the average working environment.

Preventative Measures for Enhanced Workplace Productivity

As a result of the above studies, numerous offices and factories have implemented drug-free workplace programs to develop and maintain a safer, happier working environment. Typically, this type of approach requires five key components in order to fully improve workplace productivity. These are listed below:

* An extensive policy
* Supervisor coaching
* Employee training
* Employee assistance
* Drug testing

It is this last factor which can easily encroach on an employee’s privacy though, so such measures must be carefully implemented. Fortunately, there are numerous agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Division in the US which can provide guidance on how to properly set up and maintain a drug-free workplace program for any type of business.

One key difficulty of creating a program such as this is that it must cover all bases when it comes to what to do in case a staff member is abusing drugs or alcohol. Not only must help be provided in a professional manner, but it must also be consistent throughout the organization, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally. Training programs for both employees and supervisors should cover all planned procedures carefully so that everyone is aware of what to do to ensure that workplace productivity is not affected by excessive drug or alcohol use.

Benefits of Drug Testing

Despite the difficulty in implementing these types of programs, it is obvious that they have various benefits. By commencing drug tests and ensuring that all workers are knowledgeable about what to do in case of third party substance abuse, it is easy to reduce the effects of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. This in turn can lead to the following results:

* Fewer accidents and compensation claims
* Reduced absenteeism
* Higher turnover
* Improved overall workplace productivity
* Lower expenses
* Fewer terminations and less time spent employing new staff

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