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The Journal of Drug Issues 22(4), 923-937, 1992 Page 923
DRUGS IN THE WORKPLACE: OVERSTATING
THE PROBLEMS AND THE CURES
Stephen M. Crow
Sandra J. Hartman
Generally speaking, the American workforce's productivity is not effected by alcohol and drugs. While this statement appears to fly in the face of the prevailing wisdom, we offer evidence that it is true, consider why there is a widespread perception that drugs are a significant problem in the American workplace, and suggest implications for managers and human resource professionals.
Drug use is widely held to be a scourge in the American workplace and a major contributor to problems with productivity in this country. How true are these charges? What factors lie behind the widespread attention to drugs as a problem? What should be done? In this article, we attempt an analysis of drugs in the workplace, in a way that is as free as possible from the hysteria and emotionalism that we believe has clouded previous accounts. When the emotion is stripped away, the results will be surprising to many. Only a small percentage of workers' effectiveness is effected by the effects of alcohol and drugs. We believe that the image of large numbers of workers impaired by alcohol or drugs that is familiar from politicians, the news media, business magazine's and journals, and people in the alcohol and drug use prevention industry is sensationlistic and inaccurate. In reality, only a comparatively few workers are affected by alcohol and drugs, but they receive an inordinate amount of attention. We consider the evidence below and conclude by presenting what we believe to be the implications for management and human resource professionals.
Stephen M. Crow, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of personnel/human resources at the University of New Orleans. The focus of his research is on decision making, sexual harassment, drugs in the workplace, and how emotions, fads- and myths influence the practice of management. Sandra J. Hartman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of management at the University of New Orleans. The focus of her research is on organizational behavior, gender effects in decision making, sexual harassment issues, mid equity theory. Address requests for reprints to Stephen M. Crow, University of New Orleans, Department of Management, Lakefront, New Orleans, LA 70148.
© Journal of Drug Issues, Inc. 0022-0426/92/04/ 923--937 $1.00
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The Workplace Costs of Alcohol and Drugs
The practice of unqualified "price tagging" of alcohol and drug problems in the workplace is widespread and cost estimates in the billions are quite common. For example, annual estimates of at least $100 billion in lost productivity are not uncommon (see, for example, Bompey 1988; Segal 1990). The truth is that the economic and productivity losses due to alcohol and drugs are unknown and such knowledge may be unattainable.
Most of the people who make claims about costs and losses do so in good faith. However, very few authors cite their sources and, almost without exception, the costs quoted are drawn from other undocumented estimates. The cost estimates vary considerably and something is lost in the translation of the related terms and concepts. "Lost earnings" in an original research document may become "lost productivity in America," which in turn evolves into "lost productivity in business" in subsequent writings. Weiss (1987) offers an interesting account of how the incorrect analysis and interpretation of substance abuse cost can become enshrined as "U.S. Government Statistics."
How does it happen? The original research document containing the terms and statistics, which are subsequently noted, is usually a government report funded by an agency not wholly objective or indifferent to the issues. A federal agency with a budget of several million tax dollars may feel compelled, either consciously or unconsciously, to justify its existence by excessively price tagging the problems it is trying to resolve. One such report, The Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Mental Illness: 1985 (Rice et al. 1990) is a frequently cited source for alcohol and drug costs. This document is three hundred pages long, very quantitative, and to the lay reader, probably appears quite credible. In all fairness to the authors of this document, the limitations of their methods and findings are well documented in their report. Unfortunately, the limitations are rarely mentioned by those who cite it.
The term "lost earnings" is one of the problems associated with interpreting the report. The authors use the human capital approach; the problems related to this approach and its underlying assumptions about the costs of health problems are well documented (see Jones-Lee 1976; Mishan 1971; Schelling 1968). For example, all alcoholics are assumed to lose earnings during periods of disability in their working lives. This assumption is problematic because estimates of the number of alcoholics in America, the amount of time they are disabled, and the amount of earnings lost due to the disability are very speculative.
Translating lost earnings into lost productivity is an even more difficult --- and perhaps impossible --- undertaking. Assuming that an alcoholic loses six months of earnings in a working lifetime, is there a corresponding loss of six months of productivity? Probably not, because six months of lost earnings to an individual may have no impact on an organization's productivity. While exceptional cases may exist, the organization will probably not provide six months of sick pay for that individual. Instead, after limited benefits expire, the individual will, in most
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circumstances, resign, be terminated, or be placed on some form of leave without pay. If a firm loses an alcoholic in any of these ways, its productivity levels will be unaffected if the employee is replaced. Thus, the alcoholic employee loses earnings, but the firm continues to maintain established production goals. Some costs may be associated with the turnover, that is, recruiting and training costs, but those costs will inevitably be considerably less than the earnings lost by the employee.
There is some recognition of these facts. Dr. Albert Woodward (1990) of the National Institute of Drug Abuse praised Rice and associates' report, but acknowledged that it was based on "messy mathematical problems." He also stated that the report does not account for the impact of alcohol and drugs on businesses and, supporting our argument above, added that this information is probably unattainable. Even if the data could be calculated, employers are reluctant to open their workplace to research because they either do not have the time or they fear the public reaction or legal consequences associated with the exposure of drug problems.
Recent research further indicates that the workplace costs of alcohol and drug use are lower than expected and that they may be less than the money spent by organizations for anti-drug programs. For example, Zwerling and colleagues (1990) found that, although a positive test for illicit drugs in a pre-employment drug screening is associated with adverse employment outcomes (i.e., turnover, absenteeism, discipline, accidents), the outcomes were much lower than the usual claims and estimates. The study suggests that many claims made to justify pre-employment drug screening have been exaggerated, and that the cost effectiveness of drug screening should be re-evaluated.
Other studies support these findings. Winslow (1990) reported on an AT&T Co. study of two plant sites --- one that screened for drugs and one that did not. The study found that the workplace costs of illicit drug use were less than the costs associated with drug testing. As a result, AT&T found no economic justification to implement drug testing across the board. In other studies, Parish (1989) found no statistically significant relationship between a positive test on a pre-employment drug screening and employee turnover. McDaniel (1988) found drug testing to have only limited predictive validity in determining job applicant suitability.
Dr. George D. Lundberg, editor of the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association and the vice president for scientific information of the AMA, had this to say about the benefits of drug testing:
Urine drug screening has been introduced as one method to create the drug free workplace. Unfortunately, there are no studies that I am aware of in the peer review literature that support the notion that the benefits produced by this approach will exceed the costs in money or loss of personal liberty pro-
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duced by this form of intimate body search without clinical indications (Culhane 1987:8).
Findings such as these suggest that claims of widespread drug problems in the workplace are exaggerated. Yet organizations continue to spend considerable amounts of money to combat drug problems through testing, training, and employee assistance programs. In fact, organizations" willingness to do. so is particularly notable in view of their traditional reluctance to spend money on human resources programs- Why the overstated concern? We believe that several factors are contributing.
The Moral Panic
While very few Americans use illicit drugs and the use of all drugs, illegal and legal, has been declining for many years, many believe that there is a major drug epidemic in America. We also believe that the workplace is not immune from the effects of the epidemic. Our concerns are such that some conclude that we are on the verge of drug hysteria (Wicker 1988). Whether our fears are justified or hysterical, they are, to a great extent, fueled by a constant barrage of media and political information about drug-related problems.
Americans have a paradoxical love-hate relationship with mood-altering substances. We have a curious tolerance for tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs and steroids, but a general intolerance for illicit drugs. This dichotomous attitude about drugs (not easily explained simply on the basis of the legal nature of the substances) has been with us for over one hundred years. We view illicit drug users, more so than those who use alcohol, as morally corrupt and this attitude has been systematically manipulated throughout this century.
To understand this better requires some knowledge of what may be referred to as "moral panics." Ben-Yehuda (1987) has documented a moral panic related to drugs in Israel, which had a progression similar to what has been happening in this country during the 1980s. In essence, he concluded that although there was not a major drug problem in his country, a great deal of hysteria and concern over drugs was created by "moral entrepreneurs." Moral entrepreneurs do their work as either crusading reformers or as rule enforcers (Becker 1963). They are people or institutions with a value system, moral theme, an agenda, or products to market who, to gain support for their ideas and objectives, create "moral panics." Such panics develop when
a condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests: its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by the editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions;
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ways of coping are evolved, or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible (Ben-Yehuda 1986:496).
Closely related to moral panic --- and fueled by many of the same factors is what can be considered a neo-temperance movement. Tolerance for drug use has never been high in the United States. In essence, drug users are viewed as outsiders --- special kinds of people who because they break enforced rules cannot be trusted to live by the rules agreed upon by the dominant group in power (Becker 1963). Musto (1973; 1989) presents an historical analysis describing how socioeconomic class, race, national origin, puritanical ethics, moral indignation, political agendas, and so on, have shaped our bias against users of substances like opium, cocaine, and marijuana. Fears of drug use are, to a substantial degree, a play upon our emotions, particularly fears and prejudices about blacks, Orientals, and Mexicans. Over the last one hundred years, the use of illicit drugs has been routinely associated with "undesirables." As early as the early 1920s, crime in New York City was blamed on drug use. At other times, heroin as a "foreign" threat was used by isolationists, attacks on whites were attributed to crazed Negro cocaine fiends, and marijuana was linked to violence, dissolute living, and Mexican aliens. Today, media coverage of drug-related problems --- drug busts in ghetto surroundings --- gives the impression that illicit drug use is a problem primarily among blacks (Raspberry 1990).
Furthermore, there is evidence that drug intolerance follows cyclical patterns. A major wave of drug intolerance began at the turn of the twentieth century and lasted until the mid- 1960s. But starting with the 1960s, a new cycle began and an uneasy acceptance of illicit drug use was initiated and lasted for about fifteen years. As a reaction to the cultural alienation and dissention caused by the Vietnam War, young people turned to drugs to symbolize their opposition to the government and the values of the so-called "establishment. " By 1970 the use of marijuana was widespread and research had debunked many of the myths about the dreadful effects of the drug. The use of marijuana became so prevalent and so difficult to control that movements to legalize it gained popular support.
In the early 1980s, a new cycle began and we witnessed the birth of what may be the
third temperance movement in U.S. history. Specifically, we appear to be witnessing a
reaction to the relative liberalization of the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1970s, there
was pressure for the legalization of marijuana; today, the legalization of any
illicit drug seems out of place.
It is on this basis that the New York Times (1 January 1991:A3) reports that many experts believe America is in the midst of a major neo temperance movement. One expert cited by the newspaper, Dr. Herbert Kleber, a deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said, "In the 1960s and 1970s drug use became what I and others call normalized. The non-user was the loner. But over
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the past five to ten years, that attitude has begun to shift." Some think this country is in the grips of drug hysteria (Wicker 1988); still others call our inordinate concern about illicit drugs "a chemical McCarthyism" (Lundberg 1986) wherein guilty until proven innocent is the new slogan (Culhane 1987).
Assuming that the cycle has shifted toward intolerance, it is only reasonable to ask what factors have fueled the shift. We believe that several "parties at interest" have played a heavy role. There are many potential benefactors in this country to fears over illicit drugs. At a national and local level, politicians, government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the media directly benefit from concern. over drugs and are best served by keeping the issue of drugs before the American people. We now consider why these groups may find it in their best interests to sensationalize drug abuse.
The Role of the Media
In a sense, the media controls the storytelling of America. Our images of drugs and the users of drugs are provided, primarily, through the mass media, particularly, television. Yet the media's image lacks a realistic form. The illicit drug problem is overstated, the users of drugs are portrayed as bogeymen, while the major drug problem, use of alcohol and tobacco, is all but ignored.
The mass media is in the business of marketing a product and, without question, there is a vast and interested market for drug-related news. During a nine-month period, the Media Monitor (Lichter and Richter 1989) reviewed the number of stories on the administration's War on Drugs in national media outlets. They monitored the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts, the Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek. There were 562 stories in all, a sizeable amount of coverage considering the fact that, to be counted, the stories had to relate to the War on Drugs. Any other drug-related story was excluded from the count.
The amount of media coverage given an issue is not always in proportion to the seriousness of the problem. A recent article by Shafer (1989a) in the Wall Street Journal describes a poll related to illicit drug problems. The poll did not include questions about alcohol or other harmful legal drugs, and Shafer (1989b) concluded that the news-worthiness of illicit drugs over alcohol was the probable explanation. The paradoxical order of public concern and media coverage of illicit drugs has been noted by others.
Alcohol remains the most widely used and abused drug in the United States, despite the recent publicity surrounding the increasing prevalence of cocaine and other illegal drugs. . . . Clearly, alcohol abuse and dependence are problems of major health impact that deserve as much, if not more media, medical and social attention as is currently given to the use of illicit drugs (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company 1987: 20-25).
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Not only is there a flood of drug-related stories in the media, the focus is on sensationalism. The resulting discussion rarely represents a balanced or complete treatment of the issues. The news media, particularly television news, has to sprint through a number of topics and has time to touch on them only lightly. So-called expert commentators are featured frequently to address drug-related issues and tend to offer only facile generalizations and solutions for drug problems. These experts commentators are instructed by broadcasters to state their opinions concisely and not get bogged down with long explanations (Voll 1990).
Public exposure to the facts is also inhibited by the process of analyzing social issues and the form in which the analyses are documented. Social research takes months or years to examine issues like drug use and its social and economic effects. The scholars that do the research speak about the results only through scholarly publications. These publications are neither timely, entertaining nor publicly intelligible. Broadcasters, for the reasons already mentioned, will not plow through research and decipher it for the public. Invariably, what the public is left with is an incomplete and often exaggerated view of the drug problem.
The Role of Politics
It is in the interest of many politicians to see the media fan the fires of illicit drug intolerance. Drug issues were made for politicians and they use them to the fullest. A politician has nothing to lose by devoting a lot of time to the so-called drug problem and campaigning for drug programs. Most Americans believe that a major drug problem exists, and contrary to fact, think it is getting worse, not better. As a result, they give overwhelming support to issues like the War on Drugs and drug testing in the workplace. The federal drug bill passed by Congress was viewed by some as nothing more than political pandering to public drug hysteria (Wicker 1988).
Not to be outdone, state and local politicians have called for actions that exploit the public's emotional response to drug problems. A Delaware state senator has proposed legislation to use the whipping post in punishing drug dealers (Swanson 1989), while the police chief of Washington, D.C. has called for inoculating American youths against the effects of drugs. A Texas state representative recently drafted legislation to punish convicted drug dealers by cutting off their fingers.
Unlike what would be the case with alcohol and tobacco, there is no strong and powerful constituency to offend by being tough on drugs. Additionally, the drug issue offers an opportunity for distraction politics. By devoting most of one's time to drug-related issues, a politician finds a safe haven from larger, more important, and often more difficult to resolve issues.
Some of the political dynamics become clearer when we contrast the treatment afforded illegal drugs to that of alcohol and tobacco, which have powerful constituencies. The War on Drugs is a political tool that focuses primarily on illicit drugs and not on the more deadly legal drugs --- alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol and other legal intoxicants are not mentioned in Executive Order 12564 calling for a
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drug free federal workplace and only recently has drug czar Bob Martinez begun discussing the possibility of directing more attention to alcohol and tobacco (U.S. News and World Report, 1 July 1991:12).
Finally, politicians are quick to abandon an enterprise that no longer has voter appeal. A certain amount of drug threat ennui has developed and drug issues no longer have the political draw that they held in the early and mid-1980s. The public's interest has been diverted to other issues, for example, the disintegration Of the great evil empire Russia, reunification of Germany, the war in the Middle East, the David Duke threat, the Thomas Hill controversy, and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial. By all accounts, the Bush administration has lost interest in the War on Drugs and the war itself, like all previous wars on drugs, is virtually lost. As it lost political appeal, as early as mid- 1990, Bush's drug war started to fade and "is nowhere on the national agenda" (Witkin and Robinson 199 1).
The Role of Drug Entrepreneurs
In the American tradition of entrepreneurship, the War on Drugs has spawned a vast cottage industry. Drug entrepreneurs offer a variety of programs to help organizations fight their drug wars. Drug testing, substance abuse treatment and counseling, training, and security systems are just a few of the programs that entrepreneurs, promise will bring victory in the War on Drugs. Whether they emerge as a result of what Dickson (1968) described as a bureaucratic response to an environmental pressure or as a result of exploitation, drug entrepreneurs perpetuate the widely held belief that an enormous drug problem exists in the workplace.
In the workplace, two different groups stand to gain the most from national drug hysteria. These groups are the merchants selling anti-drug products and services --- a major industry --- and the people within organizations who hope to gain some political advantage from the concerns associated with drugs. Both groups are acting as entrepreneurs in protecting their turf.
The anti-drug industry is extremely large and the growth of the industry has mushroomed during the 1980s. It employs thousands of people in management and training consulting, hospitals, drug testing laboratories, medicine, drug counseling services, security services and investigations, legal professions, and so forth. Needless to say, these people are direct benefactors of drug hysteria and are unlikely to reveal the drug problem as a hoax. Furthermore, some of those promising drug-related treatment programs, like the Church of Scientology, are nothing more than counseling linked to doctrinaire religious beliefs.
Individuals within organizations also "sell" drug-related services. While many people within organizations who implement anti-drug services do so in good faith, some are purely Machiavellian in their intent. It is easy to see how the reputation of a human resource, safety, or security manager could be bolstered by championing a hard-hitting, new anti-drug program, for example.
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In fact, drug hysteria gives managers in many positions an opportunity to expand their influence. Those associated with the games people play in organizations are all too familiar with the ploy of manufacturing a threat that "only we can resolve." Larger budgets and more people are required to do the work associated with anti-drug programs. Along with the expanded resources comes a certain amount of power even beyond the power associated with bigger budgets. Needless to say, the person in charge of random drug testing in an organization is not someone to be trifled with. You may be clean, but your key person may not.
To market their agenda, the anti-drug merchants are required to do two things. First, key managers have to be convinced that a drug problem exists in their organization. This is not difficult. Few organizations conduct objective needs analysis before implementing anti-drug programs. Many managers assume that a major drug problem exists in this country and it carries over to the workplace; therefore, there must be a drug problem in all organizations. Second, the anti-drug merchants must translate the problems of drugs to economic losses. And, as noted, misleading statistics on the size of the drug problem are readily available.
In view of the concerns and fears of the American. public --- whether founded in reality or not --- it is not surprising that drug testing is widely viewed as an effective "solution" to "the drug problem in organizations. " Drug testing is widely accepted as an appropriate methodology. About 96% of the top one hundred companies drug test applicants and employees (Feinstein 1990a). But is it effective? Of course, to gauge effectiveness, it is first necessary to determine that there is a problem, and our basic thesis is that the evidence of a problem is far from convincing. Certainly, however, there are drug users in our society, and some are in our workforce, or trying to gain entry into the workforce. How effective is drug testing in identifying these individuals? Again, a review of statistics may be informative. In general, the need for drug testing has been based on unproven assumptions.
First, the assumption that there is an extensive alcohol and drug problem in the workplace, though widely reported in the popular media and in practitioner journals, has not been confirmed by research. What we have are global estimates and anecdotal accounts of work-related alcohol and drug costs --- both of which are problematic. Many workers have problems that effect performance to some degree, yet most of these problems are not related to alcohol and drugs (Feinstein 1990b). According to Family Service America, an employee assistance association that sees about a thousand workers per quarter, substance abuse is a far less pervasive problem than the day-to-day problems associated with modern living--- adjusting to the work and the people at work, family problems, and one's lifecycle. Alcohol is a problem only 7% of the time, cocaine a like amount, and marijuana, only 1% of the time. Second, many people assume, in absence of evidence, that drug testing deters drug use. Evidence indicates that there is no good reason to
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believe that it does (see, for example, Reuter 1988). One could probably make a better argument that drug testing restructures drug use. For example, to escape detection through drug testing, people who smoke marijuana might switch to alcohol since it clears the system quickly,
Third, many people assume drug testing is cost effective but, as previously noted, the research does not support that assumption (Culhane 1987; Parish 1989; Winslow 1990; Wish 1990; Zwerling, Ryan and Orav 1990). Assuming that drug testing is not the panacea it has been represented to be, it is important to consider how it came to be so widely and uncritically accepted. At least part of the answer lies in America's romance with testing.
The Neo-testing Movement
The popularity of drug testing is due in part to what can best be described as corporate America's neo-testing movement. Before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, employment testing,, dominated the hiring and promotion practices of most corporations. Employment testing began to flourish after World War II, and the time between 1950 and 1964 could be described as the Golden Age of Testing. However, when one considers the tests that were widely used at that time, the period could just as easily be called the Age of Testing Madness. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory for example, was quite popular among American companies as a pre employment test, despite the fact that it was originally designed to test schizophrenics in the back wards of mental institutions and had practically no value in predicting job performance.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 proved to be a coup d'etat for this kind of employment testing. After the 1971 Supreme Court ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power Company, employers had to show that employment tests were job related. Not surprising, most employment tests proved to have virtually no validity for predicting job success and, as a result, most were abandoned by employers. However, employment testing staged a comeback in the 1980s and got a real boost in 1989 with the Supreme Court ruling in Wards Cove v. Antonio. After Wards Cove, employers no longer had the burden of proving that the statistical discrimination that normally results from testing was due to business necessity.
Two recent congressional acts, however, may chill the resurgence of employment testing. The new Civil Rights Act of 1991 returns to employers the burden of proving that adverse impact is due to business necessity. Can drug testing stand up under its provisions? It's an open question. Additionally, the new Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991 will further cloud the issues (Kane 1991).
Can employment testing be effective? Employment testing continues to be highly controversial and many people still believe that most popularly used tests tend to be male oriented, culturally biased, or both. Many are so blatant that companies leave themselves wide open for litigation. Target Stores uses a test that asks applicants to respond true or false to statements like, "I believe in the second
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coming of Christ," "I believe that there is a devil and a hell in the afterlife," and "I have never indulged in unusual sex practices" (Kane 1991).
If employment tests are so discriminatory in their effect and, generally speaking, are poor predictors of job performance as well, why are they so popular with American employers? We do not pretend to know the full answer to that question. However, it seems to us that employment tests are popular for reasons related to cultural habits, convenience, and an aversion to risks and confrontations.
We are a test happy society --- testing is a national habit. We test for practically every major life event. What's more, testing is usually simple and convenient. Since many decision makers are averse to risks and confrontations, employment tests are popular because they take decision makers off the hook. If a manager hires a person who fails to perform, the test can be blamed. If a rejected applicant confronts the employer, once again the test results can be blamed.
Fad and Fashion: The Diffusion of an Inefficient Technology
Since the early 1980s, organizations have put themselves under enormous pressure to increase employee productivity and to improve the quality of products and services. Fortunately, this pressure has resulted in many innovations that have achieved their purpose. However, in their haste, organizations have introduced many technological innovations that once in place have not improved productivity (McGill 1988). The diffusion of the personal computer is a good example. Many believe that personal computers have not made our lives more productive; instead many either sit idle in offices or are used to force the generation of needless reports and over-analyzed statistics. According to a survey by PC Magazine, nearly one-third of personal computer owners think that they generate more work, not less (Schneidawind and Rebello 1991).
Drug testing may prove to be another nonproductive innovation. To the litany of concerns about drug testing, we should also consider drug testing as a technology that has many of the trappings of a management fad. We have noted evidence that employers adopt drug testing not as a result of its effectiveness nor for a recognized drug problem in their organizations. Why? Perhaps part of the reason lies in a need to imitate other organizations.
Abrahamson (1991) has conducted research about the diffusion of innovative technology in organizations. In some cases, organizations adopt new technology based on proven- needs and, at other times, adoption of technology is strictly imitative with no apparent business-related justification. Diffusion through imitation is the organizational equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses.
Abrahamson offers several explanations of imitative decision making. There are several that seem relevant to the adoption and diffusion of drug testing technology. Imitation based on fad or fashion may occur under conditions of uncertainty. There is no simple way to determine how extensive drug use is in any given organization. Consequently, for many employers, some degree of uncertainty must exist with respect to the extent of alcohol- and drug-related
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problems in their organizations. In other cases, organizations will opt to imitate the decisions of "fashion-setting organizations" or "opinion leaders." Still others will imitate other organizations' technology acquisitions in order to conform to emerging norms that sanctify these technologies. Still other organizations succumb to "bandwagon pressures" --- pressures to adopt a technology where the number of other organizations that have already adopted the technology have become quite large. With time, "contagious diffusion" may result as organizations that imitated the decisions of other organizations are imitated in turn. We conclude that uncertainty about the extent of alcohol and drug problem in the workplace and "contagious diffusion" to some extent may account for the proliferation of drug testing.
What is the likely outcome for drug testing if research continues to show that it is not cost effective? Abrahamson (199 1) indicates that when organizations learn that a technology is inefficient, they tend to reject and remove it. In some cases, a counterbandwagon of rejection and removal occurs where pressure once again mounts to imitate other organizations that abandon the technology. In short, when innovations no longer benefit organizations, they disappear. However, we suspect that drug testing is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. It continues to enjoy extensive popular support and, for many employers, there is no choice --- some law, perhaps cynically enacted for political gain, requires them to use drug testing. What's more, drug testing will continue, to provide what Abrahamson calls symbolic or emotional efficiency. Here, the technology fulfills nontechnological functions such as instilling hope, signaling innovativeness, signaling values, or relieving boredom. In this sense, drug testing will be used less and less as a efficient technology and more and more as a symbolic anachronism.
A Last Word
American companies look to science and technology for a quick fix, and most tests, particularly drug tests, have the intoxicating illusion of science. By nature, Americans are impatient managers and look to technology to bypass human input at almost any cost. As managers, we want to avoid the headaches associated with dealing one-on-one with employees.
No test or technology will ever free supervisors or managers from the need to select, train, motivate, examine the work of, and communicate with --- in other words to deal face-to-face --- employees. And this includes dealing with any drug problems that do exist on an individual basis. Sweeping solutions simply won't do it. Until we come to grips with that simple reality, we are destined to continue tilting windmills.
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