A series of studies have been conducted over the last couple years that have dealt with the effectiveness of public and other messaging intended to change behaviours. Targeted behaviours include teenage sex, smoking, binge drinking, youthful alcohol consumption, and of course, drug use. The results have a common theme: negative messaging is not effective. Employers can take away an important lesson from these studies that are applicable to the workplace. The lesson is this: negatively framed drug and alcohol policies are counterproductive.
There are two aspects to this discussion. First, a poorly written policy that is also ill-conceived will not be taken seriously by workers and could make the employer more susceptible to claims that the employer did not exercise proper duty of care should someone get injured or even killed on the job. Second, a negatively worded policy that comes across as threatening, such as implying immediate job loss or loss of pay should someone test positive for a substance as a result of a drug or alcohol test, will be resented. In both cases, workplace morale is damaged.
Respectful and Helpful
Klinger, Limited in Australia, a manufacturer and distributor of gas and fluid sealing solutions and member of the Klinger Group of Independent Companies, posted their Drug & Alcohol Policy online. It is model policy in tone in that it first focuses on the policy benefits for workers. The purpose of policy begins with the statement that, “Klinger Limited aims to provide and maintain a workplace environment that not only protects the health and safety of all workplace participants whilst at work, but also facilitates a productive workplace.”1 In the next two statements, the policy points out that workers must treat each other respectfully to promote a safe and productive workplace and that workplace drug and alcohol use impairs the ability of workers to perform duties safely and efficiently for themselves and for co-workers, clients, and anyone else they interact with on the job.
The positive message is then reinforced with this statement, “The purpose of this Policy is to reduce the likelihood of injury, damage and/or other negative effects resulting from alcohol and/or drug use and/or abuse in the work environment.” Clearly, the company has developed a drug and alcohol policy that is meant to help workers succeed in the workplace and is not meant to serve as a disciplinary policy.
Intimidating workers or making them fearful is not a good approach. The studies on messaging have proven that people do not respond well to negatively framed messages. A recent study reported in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors scientifically reinforced this fact. Conducted by researchers from Indiana University and Wayne State University in the U.S., neuroimaging techniques were used to examine how the brain of substance dependent individuals respond to public messaging that used negative phrasing like, “Drugs are bad for you,” and “Just say no,”. The researchers wanted to pinpoint how neural mechanisms involved in risky decision making responded to negative messaging. The results indicated that the area of the brain that typically assesses risk is functioning at a lower level in people who are dependent on substances. They interpret messages emphasising loss differently than someone who is not drug or alcohol dependent. The researchers plan on continuing their study of messaging and will now begin working on identifying how positive messaging influences neural mechanisms.2
It is a good idea to regularly review the drug and alcohol policy and ensure that it sends a positive message that maintaining worker safety, health, and productivity is the focus. The research already supports the fact that negative messaging can produce undesirable results and most likely will one day prove positive messaging stimulates neural networks in the right way.
The drug and alcohol policy should be well-written, begin on a positive note, and incorporate policies on random worker testing for substance use. CMM (http://cmm.com.au/) supplies stringently tested products that build worker faith in testing results through reliability and accuracy.
1 Klinger, Limited. (n.d.). Klinger BMS Policies – Management & Administration, PL620-1100, Drug & Alcohol Policy. Retrieved from Klinger, Limited: http://www.klinger.com.au/documents/034_PL620-1100Alcohol_Drug_AbusePolicy.pdf
2 Indiana University (2012, November 26). Neuroimaging study: Negative messages less effective on those who are substance dependent. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126110927.htm