Crystal Bowersox has a new hit song out called “Farmer’s Daughter.” I let it play a few times this morning, allowing the words to sink in. Here it is for you. Feel free to play it back a few times, as I did. It’s well worth it.
As a former alcohol and drug abuse counselor, I saw many lives damaged and destroyed. While the themes of abuse were common, such as parental absenteeism, mental abuse, physical abuse, reversal of parent and child roles, sexual abuse and confusion, early death and abandonment, jail time, each one case had its’ own unique enactment and consequences. Naturally, many suffered erratic employment and poor job prospects.
Here are just a few facts on substance abuse. If you think people are getting smarter, read this short article on the 2010 trends in alcohol and drug abuse. Surprisingly, those in college and the well educated may be even more at risk based on several studies. Clearly career and occupational stress, as well as social pressures in the school and workplace take their toll. When I worked in East St. Louis, it seemed like everyone in the workplace was abusing something. People used to say that unemployment insurance was the biggest employer. But of the real jobs in town, meat packing and the railroad headed the list. Patients (clients) would often tell us that they would find it extremely difficult to go back to the job without returning to drinking and drugs. My experience was with those at the bottom of the economic ladder, but the problem, need I say it again, is widespread as we all too well know.
How in hell does the employer prepare for dealing with alcohol and drug abuse as it impacts the workplace? How do you reduce or eliminate the impact of alcohol and drug abuse on you and your dreams for a successful company? How do you reduce or eliminate the impact of addiction on your team? Abuse on the job is not always easy to identify and document, especially with a field workforce such as we have in the pest control industry. Some people with addictions may actually gravitate to the pest control industry because it is harder to observe employee behaviors. What impact does alcohol and drug abuse at home have on your company? Surely, it impacts your company and the employee’s employment future, but taking steps to address the workplace impact of that addiction and addictive behavior is legally more risky when the primary abuse is off the job.
Severe alcohol and drug abuse problems always have a job related impact. Back in 1959, researchers were beginning to seriously study the issue of alcoholism and industrial impact. The first job impact is usually lateness and absenteeism. Patterns of Monday morning sick call-in is often predictive. Alcohol and drug abuse clinical surveys have as one of their primary questions, “Have you ever been absent from work due to drinking or drug use?” Employers and co-workers should keep an ear and eye open for possible addictive behaviors. No one is doing anyone a favor by letting it slide. The risk of accidents has not changed. Increase in liability has changed for the worse. Regardless of how reprehensible the act of the alcohol or drug abuser, the liability, damaged reputation and negative financial consequences fall on the shoulders of the employer. If fellow employees think they are not impacted they are sorely mistaken. When one employee causes economic problems of any type for the company, that pain gets distributed down the ladder to everyone. So it is a team responsibility to be sure that everyone on staff is operating with their full mental capacities. Sadly, once a company has hired the addicted employee, that company owns the problem.
It is a strange world we live in. While the debate continues about how socialistic or capitalistic our society should be, there is a simultaneous debate over how responsible our governmental and corporate leadership should be. While companies are asked to operate in a highly regulated and taxed environment, much of the burden associated with addictions is also heaped on our companies. Little is being done to unburden the workplace. With this said, what are our nation’s companies to do but screen, screen, screen – eliminating any chance that people who show at risk symptoms from ever finding employment. I count myself as someone who would do anything to keep those addicted out of my company.
Where I may differ is that once these people are in my company, perhaps to a fault, I tend to be supportive. I’ll extend myself as much as I can to solve the problem. But I’m no longer a social worker and having been one, I know that tough love is sometimes the best love. Each and every company should have strict policies on alcohol and drug abuse. My own personal struggle has been to build an environment based on trust and maturity while simultaneously remaining vigilant for signs of abuse and utilizing breath and blood testing to catch those who may be abusive.
In a field where our primary goal is to protect the public and a foundational promise is to do no harm to the environment, we cannot let reckless employees destroy that promise we make to the public.
I so strongly share the frustration of Crystal Bowersox as she sings the refrain of this beautiful song.
“All I ever wanted was you to be there for me.”
“All I ever needed was you to be here for me.”
While the dream of a socially responsible corporation is to guide and mold the company together with the needs and aspirations of the community, this problem so stresses the corporation that it becomes extraordinarily difficult for the company to be here for employees with such overwhelming struggles. We wish we could be there for you, but we must first be there for the public welfare at the expense of any one individual.
I believe there is one key thing we can do preventatively. That is, we can be good for our employees. We must be one healthy element in their lives. We can help to take care of the employee by creating a win-win mutual aid society. We can be here for the employee when he or she wants someone to lend an ear. Employers and teammates can be friends that are able to provide tough love, but also friends that can simply coach and guide in the development of a sound career and mature work attributes, so that the worker can go home to his or her family with pride and self-respect. If depression, hopelessness, low self-esteem have anything to do with addictive behaviors, than we have at least one major avenue to help reduce this problem in society.
We in the pest control industry and in the general corporate world can get involved many ways. We can support organizations promoting awareness, prevention and treatment such as the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence.
We can support organizations that support the spouses and children of alcohol and drug abusers. We should remember that for every abuser there are four or more immediate family members impacted and that PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome )is a long-lasting illness. You can learn more at this government sponsored women’s health network for abused and battered women.