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​Reasonable Suspicion Training: Is Your Biggest Enabler the Organization or the DOT Workplace--Itself?

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You already know about enabling and enablers. These are the people alcoholics and addicts depend on to help them experience consequences associated with their substance abuse. All addicts will interface with enablers who buy time for them as their addictive disease grows worse.

Enablers "buy off" the addict's pain by what they say, or do, or think, and they admonish others to do the same or say whatever is necessary to help the addict not realize the seriousness of the problem they face. Addicts then avoid the pain that would cause them to do something differently...like something that could lead to arresting the illness by stopping the consumption of drugs or alcohol.

Organization as Enabler: Be Sure to Discuss the Problem in DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training

There is another type of enabler that most of us trainers do not discuss, and this one is not human. It's the employer--ad the work organization itself, and its policies, expectations, excuse-making, traditions, and business mission any or all of which can play an enabling role to keep an addict sick and getting progressively worse. And in many ways this is the worst kind of enabler because it is linked to the alcoholic's paycheck.

Everybody strives for a safe, healthy and happy workplace. Sometimes, management believes that employee behavior, such as addiction, is an isolated problem--and that nothing contributes to it that they could possibly be responsible for changing. How wrong they are. It starts with appropriate policies, education, awareness, and helpful EAP programming.

Just like loved ones of the addict, organizations can enable workers who abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Not only will your workplace suffer when organizational enabling takes place, but employees who are intoxicated on the job can lead to profound consequences, such as injuries and resulting lawsuits.

Here are four ways that your workplace may be enabling substances abusers to continue their behavior.

Employees are not empowered to confront peers. Often, a substance abuser’s coworkers are the ones who first become aware that there is a problem. Without education and awareness, and out of pure ignorance, they label alcoholic coworkers as "functional alcoholics". This means: "The alcoholic's drinking problem does not bother me." If employees were educated, they could proactively begin interrupting these sorts of enabling patterns.

If you don’t have an effective way to communicate with employees or you don't work toward giving them the right education on behavioral risk issues, you won’t get their cooperation in helping reduce risk in the workplace. A poor employee assistance program mechanism (call it a "faux EAP") may also contribute to keeping coworkers in the dark by not providing education and awareness and being proactive with both supervisor and employee training.

Drinking is part of the work culture....Not only does the substance abuser continue his behavior, not acting sends a signal to your employees that you don’t care. If you are investigating the situation, let key employees know so that they are aware you take substance abuse in the workplace seriously.

Clear, direct policies aren’t in place. Employees with addiction problems or who abuse substances on the job are pushed underground by fear. There may be a zero tolerance policy, but it does not add up. -- It fires rather than seeks to help via referral, treatment, and follow up. This drives drinking and drug use further underground, reinforcing stereotypes that create enormous risk to the organization.

You’ll learn in DOT Supervisor Training (if it is done correctly) how to organizational enabling happens and how seeing not only set up a plan to deal with substance abusers, but also how to communicate it to employees in a way that does not hold them in contempt or stigmatize them further. When this happens, employees with substance abuse problems begin thinking in different terms about how to solve their life problems associated with addiction..and this means treatment.

A drinking culture exists and reinforcement of it is rewarded. In many companies, reasonable suspicion training conflicts with their company traditions. Such training is avoided. It simply gets in the way of the fun, the business, and can harm an organization financially. One reason this happens is because of misguided definitions and understanding about alcoholism. Imagine taking customers to lunch but avoiding alcohol when that is in fact a lubricant for conversation that encourages deal making at all the other companies that compete. It's a problem. However their is a way around it -- educating employees about alcoholism and alcohol abuse -- so those who may have be in recovery are not penalized for failure to participate.

Enabling substance abusers on the job leads to employee dissatisfaction, workplace safety issues and dwindling production, and organizations can be the worst enablers.

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