Workplace alcohol and drug tests not working

by Michael Mata19 Oct 2016
According to Dr. Nicole Lee, a workplace psychologist and associate professor at the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, a wellness approach is more effective at reducing alcohol and drug use than drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.

Drug and alcohol use negatively impacts the workplace, as it can lead to accidents and injuries, absenteeism, higher staff turnover, and reduced productivity. In fact, nearly 20% of lost productivity costs in Australia are directly related to alcohol consumption and drug use.

“Drug testing in the workplace hasn’t actually been shown to reduce use or [risks] in the workplace,” asserted Dr. Lee. Instead of focusing on testing, she believes a fitness-to-work approach that encompasses policies on drug and alcohol use was more effective.

Other factors that cannot be tested for – such as stress, anxiety, depression, health problems, and fatigue – could also affect a person’s ability to work. Dr. Lee further noted that drug and alcohol abuse were often the symptoms of much deeper problems. Stress, for example, was known to lead to higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse.

Workplace environment factors – such as poor organisational culture, insufficient training, poor job security, and inadequate equipment – could also lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn could lead to drug and alcohol abuse.

Dr. Lee said organisations saw better results after developing and implementing a more comprehensive approach to health and wellbeing, as opposed to punishing employees who struggled with alcohol and drug problems.  

Across all industries, alcohol abuse was a bigger risk factor than illegal drug use, said Dr. Lee. A common byproduct of alcoholism is absenteeism (employees cannot come to work because they’re hung over) and presenteeism (employees report for work but experience reduced productivity).  

Dr. Lee said organisations need to consider the various legal and privacy implications associated with having a testing policy, and need to have a working plan in place should employees test positive. Organisations should also have thorough policies that govern alcohol consumption at work events and in company premises during work hours.