It’s often the little things that catch your attention. A poster that is mandated placed on a wall that is hardly read or the pronouncements of a safety claim that most accept without giving it a second thought. That is often what happens with pieces of our lives – ideas, evidence that we just accept. I’m like everyone else I look at stuff that comes in the mail as mostly annoyances to be sifted through. It is only those few items that strike some unknown cord that sometime startle me. Take the case of the human resource type posters.
You know those statements of equity of gender, race and such. Of course everyone knows what they stand for and why those statements need to be repeated over and over. We know that because in some way there sentiment hits home. We also know that despite those signs that stuff happens that makes the poster a lie because it does not take into account the tricks and slights that clever people have invented to claim compliance without really.
In those cases happiness is predicting that placing a sign will reinforce the government’s policy maker’s intentions to eliminate substance abuse, sexual and racial discrimination. Not that I plan to look at all three, but it’s only an observation on the effectiveness of posters as sub-optimal decision making.
In recent years, decision researchers have studied directly when decisions are sub-optimal, in particular, when decisions fail to maximize happiness. They examined two general reasons for the failure:
(i) Prediction biases, and
(ii) Failures to follow predictions.
Prediction biases occur because predictors do not fully appreciate the differences between the state of prediction and the state of experience. Failures to act on predictions occur because choosers fail to reach the optimal balance between impulsively and self-control.
The following is a species of both:
THIS IS A DRUG FREE WORKPLACE” poster – The poster, if an employer displays it, would proclaim that their establishment is a “DRUG FREE WORK ZONE” and explain that “Tests for use of illegal drugs and/or alcohol may be required prior to hiring and periodically during your employment.” The blurb accompanying the poster graphic reads as follows:
DRUG FREE WORKPLACE
All employers should provide a Drug-Free Workplace program including a written policy statement. If an employee receives a positive confirmed drug test for illegal use of drugs or alcohol, or refuses to submit to drug or alcohol test, then the burden of proof is shifted to the employee. Substance abusing workers are:
o Five times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim;
o 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents; and
o Late for work three times as often.
o Absenteeism: Substance abusers are 2.5 times more likely to be absent 8 or more days a year.
o Lost Productivity: Substance abusers are one-third less productive
These statements make it appear as if it is reasonable to predict that substance abusers anywhere near your business is a very bad thing to be avoided at all cost. I for one want none of these kinds of problems. As an advocate of addiction counseling, I am here to proclaim a readiness to work tirelessly to affect those that would bring low any work place they happen to plague. This says noting of the sadness that associating with this kind of person would have on the organization’s culture.
But wait! As a long time organizational consultant, one of the first things I would attempt is to sort (strip out the bias) out just who these people might be so as to determine the overall effect and location of their problem performances. Then I would want to know what the cost and reward to allocate for this search and destroy process.
As I look closer the “data,” is problematic in a number of ways. First, there is no differentiation of use from abuse, no explanation of what exactly is meant by abuse, no clarity as to whether the numbers refer only to illegal drugs or if they also include alcohol. If they do include alcohol, is there some distinction between casual use and heavier use that can affect work performance? Presumably the alcohol tests they mention would not have the same kinds of standards as illegal drug tests, since there is no legal or prevailing cultural standard calling for teetotalism (abstention from alcohol use). It is really hard to say exactly what they are saying. I also want to know which drugs testing results are most reliable within what tolerances.
What I learn is that drug testing isn’t worth the money or the collateral costs – except as a way to covering up a blemish on the wall or a bad paint job.
According to the 1994 National Academy of Sciences report “Under the Influence: Drugs and the American Work Force” (as summarized by the ACLU):
o Research results indicate that drug use does not pose significant productivity or safety problems in the work force. In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences published results from a three year research effort compiling research resulting from all major studies of drug testing program effectiveness. The report concluded, “the data… do not provide clear evidence of the deleterious effects of drugs other than alcohol on safety and other job performance indicators.”
o Though frequently inaccurate and ineffective, drug testing is extremely expensive. Texas Instruments reports that their drug testing program costs $100 per employee. Drug testing products and services are a multi-billion dollar industry. But the incidence of drug use in the workforce is very low. The federal government reported in 1990 that only 0.5% of tested employees tested positive. The same year, the government spent $11.7 million on its drug testing program. That works out to $77,000 per identified drug user.
o The NAS looked for and was unable to find evidence of drug testing programs’ deterrent effects. Studies which appear to show a decrease in positive test rates since the implementation of drug testing programs usually don’t adjust for the expansion of such programs’ testing groups to include not only for-cause drug tests but also suspicion less drug tests. That is, as drug-testing programs have expanded, they have tested more and more people who aren’t suspected of drug use, improving their numbers and subjecting thousands of non-users to invasive testing procedures.
Well this data is a little old and it’s the ACLU that is doing the summarizing so…. Who else has looked into this problem, and just how big of a problem is it.
The Society for Human Resource Management said in a 2006 report that 84 percent of private employers conduct pre-employment testing, 39 percent conduct random screening of employees, 73 percent conduct for-cause testing, and 58 percent require drug tests after on-the-job accidents. State and federal law also requires drug testing in many public-sector jobs. So despite the evidence to the contrary the practice not only continues but has grown.
Experts note, for example, that the tests are far more likely to detect marijuana, which stays in the body for up to a month, than harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, which are metabolized within one to three days. And few employers test for alcohol.
The tests cost have gone down from the high paid by Texas Instrument to an average of $40 each. Some employers see it as money well-spent like an insurance policy from the acquisition of drug tolerance – like sexual or racial abuse tolerance, but like the clever people that avoid the label of gender discrimination or racial discrimination the sign and policy is only for show. The critics of these type policies I suspect would agree that all such tests and posters are intrusive and ineffective.
So as it turns out the most successful candidate for testing is marijuana. This would demonstrate that the policy maker’s intention to affect by the development of this sign has all but failed accept in the case of marijuana. In that regard there is a growing movement to decriminalize the use of marijuana around the country.
Like in the case of race and gender discrimination it’s most likely the very low or slow that ever gets caught. So what the policy maker thought would bring a kind of happiness turns out to mechanism used by the clever to avoid and conceal the real issue of changing lives for the better.