The Ripple Effect

Most employers spend a lot of time examining all the programs and benefits they offer to their employees to determine which ones are creating enough of a return on their investment (ROI). Wellness plans, fitness plans, benefit plans, flexible work schedules, tele-commuting, group bonding activities, a pleasant work environment, transparent and accessible communication with management, competitive salaries and like-minded individuals all fit together like a neat little puzzle to help create that perfect work environment of happy and content employees with very little turnover.

I wonder though, how many employers realize how much having and promoting a drug-free work environment does to help the employee who may be struggling with substance abuse? Most employers understand the reasons why a drug-free workplace is a good idea on the surface. It’s proven to increase safety on the job, reduce accidents and injuries, lower insurance premiums, lower theft rates, absenteeism and promotes and fosters clear thinking and fast responses needed for dangerous or complicated tasks.

What they are really missing is how the workplace as a whole creates a gentle but positive pressure to help the person who may be struggling with drugs or alcohol to abstain. Heavy and habitual drug or alcohol use usually doesn’t happen immediately. It’s more likely marked by a steady, slow decline with increased absences, missed deadlines and increased apathy towards their job in general and fellow co-workers. When this happens employers can either shrug their shoulders and turn a blind eye or realize every person is a valuable commodity and help to steer them towards the right path. When working in an environment that values and nurtures employees to embrace a drug-free lifestyle becomes the “norm” instead of the exception, everybody wins.

The workplace is a powerful influencer and peer pressure can be felt when co-workers encourage other workers to participate in drug or alcohol use. My husband worked at Boeing for about 15 years and before he started there had never smoked a single cigarette in his life. The culture there at that time, inadvertently rewarded smokers by allowing them to leave the building where they would go outside have their smoke breaks. My husband would go for a break, too just to get outside of the building and get some fresh air and to have some camaraderie with his fellow workers, but without the cigarette. Eventually after being surrounded by smokers, day after day, he finally succumbed and starting smoking as well. 

Later, Boeing changed their policy to a no-smoking policy on the company grounds including the company parking lots, so it made smoking a cigarette a real effort and you would literally have to leave the property to have a smoke. Not surprisingly, many people quit smoking (including my husband) when the effort to smoke was no longer worth it and no longer the company norm and the peer pressure had also disappeared. What was normal and customary had shifted. As a society, in general smoking is not considered “cool” anymore when you have to seek out smoking accessories like ashtrays and cigarette holders in antique stores. The norm has shifted, and it can shift for drug and alcohol use, as well.

Companies can reinforce, remind and celebrate of all the good things that are realized by having a drug-free workplace by celebrating how many days were spent without an accident, increases in productivity or sales or bonding social activities that don’t require drugs or alcohol to participate. When this kind of lifestyle is the norm, it’s a daily reminder to the employee who may be tempted to fall off of the wagon and further complicate their life and the lives of their family. It’s the ripple effect.

The ripple effect goes farther than just the workplace, it ripples out to friends, family and the community of the worker. As employers, you hold tremendous power as to what our communities can look like when you endorse and support drug-free workplaces. Just imagine the ripple effect if every employer embraced a drug-free lifestyle instead of minimizing, ignoring or tolerating substance abuse in the workplace?

The norm is shifting. Being healthy is in. We eat clean organic foods, we drink purified water, we drive hybrid cars, we tele-commute and take mass transit to reduce our carbon footprint to have clean air. The next great step forward is to realize how a clear healthy mind free from substance abuse frees us to become the person, the company and the society we are meant to be. 

2020 is a time for a shift. Time for a ripple effect.

Esther Miller
 Drug Free Business
 Director of Marketing


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