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Drug Free Workplace Essay

Workplace Substance Abuse Essay

The following will address the issue of substance abuse in the workplace, what can be done to alleviate substance abuse in the workplace and the benefits of the control factors.

Before we delve into this issue let us first go over the effects of substance abuse, to better understand this growing problem. Alcoholism is defined in terms of four symptoms (1) a craving or compulsion to drink; (2) loss of control to limit drinking on any particular occasion; (3) physical dependence, so that withdrawal symptoms (nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety) are experienced if alcohol ceases and (4) tolerance, the need to drink increasingly greater amounts in order to get high (Lauer and Lauer, 2008).

Studies indicate that boring, repetitive tasks with little satisfying results can contribute to increased use and abuse. Other factors include irregular hours and improper supervision. Substance use can also be part of the work culture. For example, in sales professions, drinking is quite acceptable. A three-martini lunch may, in some cases, continue all afternoon. Access, opportunity and freedom can escalate a problem (Buttery, 2005/2006).

Employees are often also reluctant to reveal a problem. If I'm a licensed professional - a truck driver, doctor, nurse or veterinarian - exposing my problem may threaten my license and my ability to earn a living. I could lose my job, or if it goes on my record, it could affect my chances of promotion. In terms of addressing substance use, stigma is a barrier to accessing help. Substance use and abuse are perceived as a disciplinary problem, not a health problem (Buttery, 2005/2006).

Alcohol is the top substance problem, with marijuana following, this is because one drink can lead to slight impairment and mood change. Its easy accessibility, also, makes alcohol the most used substance. The effects of alcohol are also more difficult for an employer to detect because it does not last long in the blood stream.

The effects of illegal drugs are more difficult to determine because illegal substances can have varying side effects on the user.

Substance abuse in the workplace is one of the top concerns in the United States today. Studies show that 73 percent of drug users are employed, costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in lost production and staffing costs (Walsh). Due to higher employment rates and rising substance abuse, the chance that your organization employs one of these 8.1 million workers is greater today than it has been in the past several years (Walsh, 1996).

Dealing with the effects of alcohol and drugs in the workplace is no small challenge for any employer, but in the industrial sector where employees work closely with heavy, dangerous and hazardous materials, substance abuse ispotentially life threatening...

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In the area of privacy rights, workers have actually lost ground in recent years. Here, too, the base line is not impressive -- no comprehensive right to personal privacy on the job has ever been established. I learned this on my first day as a waitress, when my fellow workers warned me that my purse could be searched by management at any time. I wasn't carrying stolen salt shakers or anything else of a compromising nature, but there's something about the prospect of a purse search that makes a woman feel a few buttons short of fully dressed. After work, I called around and found that this, too, is generally legal, at least if the boss has reasonable cause and has given prior notification of the company's search policies.

Purse searches, though, are relatively innocuous compared with the sophisticated chemical and electronic forms of snooping adopted by many companies in the 90's. The American Management Association reports that in 1999 a record two-thirds of major American companies monitored their employees electronically: videotaping them; reviewing their e-mail and voice-mail messages; and, most recently, according to Lewis Maltby, president of the Princeton-based National Workrights Institute, monitoring any Web sites they may visit on their lunch breaks. Nor can you count on keeping anything hidden in your genes; a growing number of employers now use genetic testing to screen out job applicants who carry genes for expensive ailments like Huntington's disease.

But the most ubiquitous invasion of privacy is drug testing, usually of urine, more rarely of hair or blood. With 81 percent of large companies now requiring some form of drug testing -- up from 21 percent in 1987 -- job applicants take it for granted that they'll have to provide a urine sample as well as a resume. This is not restricted to ''for cause'' testing -- of people who, say, nod or space out on the job. Nor is it restricted to employees in ''safety-sensitive occupations,'' like airline pilots and school-bus drivers. Workers who stack boxes of Cheerios in my local supermarkets get tested, as do the editorial employees of this magazine, although there is no evidence that a weekend joint has any more effect on Monday-morning performance than a Saturday-night beer.

Civil libertarians see drug testing as a violation of our Fourth Amendment protection from ''unreasonable search,'' while most jobholders and applicants find it simply embarrassing. In some testing protocols, the employee has to strip to her underwear and urinate into a cup in the presence of an aide or technician, who will also want to know what prescription drugs she takes, since these can influence the test results.

According to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, drug testing has not been proven to achieve its advertised effects, like reducing absenteeism and improving productivity. But it does reveal who's on antidepressants or suffering with an ailment that's expensive to treat, and it is undeniably effective at weeding out those potential ''troublemakers'' who are too independent-minded to strip and empty their bladders on command.

Maybe the prevailing trade-off between jobs and freedom would make sense, in the narrowest cost-benefit terms, if it contributed to a more vibrant economy. But this is hardly the case. In fact, a 1998 study of 63 computer-equipment and data-processing firms found that companies that performed both pre-employment and random drug testing actually ''reduced rather than enhanced productivity'' -- by an eye-popping 29 percent, presumably because of its dampening effect on morale.

Why, then, do so many employers insist on treating their workers as a kind of fifth column within the firm? Certainly the government has played a role with its misguided antidrug crusade, as has the sheer availability of new technologies of snooping. But workplace repression signals a deeper shift away from the postwar social contract in which a job meant a straightforward exchange of work for wages.

Economists trace the change to the 1970's, when, faced with falling profits and rising foreign competition, America's capitalists launched an offensive to squeeze more out of their workers. Supervision tightened, management expanded and union-busting became a growth industry. And once in motion, the dynamic of distrust is hard to stop. Workers who are routinely treated like criminals and slackers may well bear close watching.

The mystery is why American workers, the political descendants of proud revolutionaries, have so meekly surrendered their rights. Sure, individual workers find ways to cheat on their drug tests, outwit the electronic surveillance and sneak in a bit of ''gossip'' here and there. But these petty acts of defiance seldom add up to concerted resistance, in part because of the weakness of American unions. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. is currently conducting a nationwide drive to ensure the right to organize, and the downtrodden workers of the world can only wish the union well. But what about all the other rights missing in so many American workplaces? It's not easy to organize your fellow workers if you can't communicate freely with them on the job and don't dare carry union literature in your pocketbook.

In a tight labor market, workers have another option, of course. They can walk. The alarming levels of turnover in low-wage jobs attest to the popularity of this tactic, and if unemployment remains low, employers may eventually decide to cut their workers some slack. Already, companies in particularly labor-starved industries like ski resorts and software are dropping drug testing rather than lose or repel employees. But in the short run, the mobility of workers, combined with the weakness of unions, means that there is little or no sustained on-site challenge to overbearing authority.

What we need is nothing less than a new civil rights movement -- this time, for American workers. Who will provide the leadership remains to be seen, but clearly the stakes go way beyond ''labor issues,'' as these are conventionally defined. We can hardly call ourselves the world's pre-eminent democracy if large numbers of citizens spend half of their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship.

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