Social Identity in Workgroups Reinforces Substance Free Workplace

A study was conducted in to determine the impact of workplace social support by supervisors and co-workers on successful training programSocial Identity in Workgroups Reinforces Substance Free Workplace transfer. In this particular study by Ken Pidd, it was a drug and alcohol training program, and the focus was on the influence of social support and the factors that need to be considered in order to design effective programs.1 In the workplace, drug and alcohol policies are only a first step because the policy must be transmitted and then supported by effective testing procedures. As workers move from workplace to workplace, they take what was learned with them and can have enormous influence on the new workforce and either makes an employer’s job easier or more difficult.

There are many factors to consider in regards to worker training being effective and a catalyst for change. The transfer climate refers to the workplace conditions that inhibit or assist with training effectiveness and transfer. An employee coming from a business where a drug-free environment was strictly enforced is not likely to be vocal at a new job where drug and alcohol policies and procedures are not enforced and co-workers have a laissez-faire approach to compliance. It should be noted though that the supervisor has enormous influence in both workplace settings.

Socially Acceptable in the Workplace

Social support for a substance free workplace is critical to success. Supervisors and co-workers must buy-in to the importance of not using drugs or alcohol for safety and health reasons. Social groups can reward or punish people who do not comply with the behavioural norms. For example, a group may give social cues that membership requires a willingness to either adhere or not adhere to policies. People who are unwilling to cooperate can be ostracized, creating a host of problems.

One of the areas the Pidd study considered was the importance of social cues. Supervisors may present one set of cues while co-workers present another. Supervisors have a lot of control over how seriously workers accept and support the substance free policy. If they do not enforce the policy, the cues clearly send the message that the use of drugs and alcohol is not a serious offence. In some cases, workers simply refuse to cooperate or are drug addicts and need help. Workers coming into a new organisation with training and a positive attitude about working in a drug free workplace may become a strong advocate for the drug and alcohol policy and often will be the person who lets a substance abuser know it is okay to ask for help.

Another interesting aspect of the study was the exploration of the social identity theory. A person’s self-concept plays a big role in the particular social groups joined. Applying the theory to the drug and alcohol program, a worker who sees him or herself as staunchly substance free is not going to participate in a group that is using drugs or alcohol in the workplace and has members covering up for each other. It is really apparent at work events like holiday parties or after-work social occasions. There always seem to be one group that drinks too much and one group that drinks very little or not at all. The drinking subculture is at play and leads to segregation of workers. Non-drinkers often have little interest in socializing with heavy drinkers. Studies have shown that workers who drank at work were 1.4 times more likely to over drink, indicating social pressure to act in a certain way.2

Unequivocal Message

The social aspect of drug and alcohol training and of social group participation is complex. It explains why some employers have difficulty keeping substances out of their workplaces despite all efforts. It also supports the importance of random drug and alcohol testing. The fact is that testing is the one sure way of sending the message that there is zero tolerance for substance use in the workplace.

Each workplace has its own social system. As people enter a particular workforce, they bring training, attitudes and experiences. The social groups they participate in reflect their prior history, and these groups influence the ability of supervisors to maintain a drug free workplace.CMM Technology (cmm.com.au) has everything the employer needs to administer workplace drug and alcohol testing.

Resources:

1. Ken Pidd, (2004). The impact of workplace support and identity on training transfer: a case study of drug and alcohol safety training in Australia. International Journal of Training and Development. V8:4, 274-288.

2. Pidd, Ken. (2005). Workplace Culture and Alcohol Use. Of Substance , 3 (1), 18-21.

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