Researchers have found that supervisors need to do more than just monitor employees all day to reduce workplace substance abuse.
Experts from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions said supervisors need to learn how to detect substance use, and then be trained on immediate corrective actions, if they desire to impact the workplace environment.
“It’s only when employees think their supervisor knows how to detect substance use — and is willing to do something about it — that employees’ drinking and drug use on the job decreases,” said Michael Frone, PhD.
“Contact with a supervisor, no matter how often, is not a strong enough deterrent for some employees, our research finds.”
In the study, 2,429 participants — ranging in age from 18-65, employed in the civilian labor force, and from households located in the 48 contiguous states — were interviewed in a random telephone survey for 45 minutes.
The study is part of a $1.4 million research project, “Workplace Substance Use: A National Prevalence Study,” funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
The results are published in the current issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Frone found that workers reported drinking less on the job when they thought their supervisors could detect substance-use
problems and were willing to take corrective action.
Intervention by a supervisor (while at work) did not influence employees’ off-the-job alcohol use and intoxication. However, when it came to illicit drugs, supervisor enforcement produced lower levels of drug use both on and off the job.
“The finding for off-the-job illicit drug use is not surprising because company policies often sanction such behavior. Even so, supervisor enforcement had a stronger relationship to on-the-job compared with off-the-job illicit drug use,” Frone said.
Frone believes the results suggest that factors influencing employee substance use are more complex than previously thought.
One immediate take-home advice is the benefit of training supervisors in how to spot and confront employee substance use. This would help reduce alcohol and illicit drug use on the job, thereby improving employee productivity.
“To the extent that supervisor social control reduces substance use at work, our other research suggests that it may also reduce stress and improve morale among the majority of employees who do not engage in such behavior,” Frone said.
More direct involvement by the supervisor is necessary to impart social control. Frone believes previous research did not make a consistent connection between supervisor social control and employee substance use.
A social and organizational psychologist, Frone is the first researcher to conduct a broad national study of both workplace and workforce substance use, as opposed to just workforce substance use.
Upcoming research will include a national survey on the broad impact of workplace stress, including the effect of the recession and both workforce and workplace alcohol use and impairment.
“We hope to identify combinations of work stressors and identify subgroups of vulnerable workers that are associated with stress-induced drinking, and spot variables that may help explain why work stress is related to employee alcohol use,” Frone said.