University Business - July 2008 - (Page 31)

HUMAN RESOURCES Bad Habits on Campus How to deal with staff and faculty who are addicts By Carol Patton D ID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE secretary who fell asleep at work, facedown on her computer keyboard? Or maybe you heard about the employee who broke down crying in his manager’s office, admitting that he needed help for a problem he had been hiding for months—his addiction to alcohol. These are true scenarios that occurred at different universities. More than likely, the human resources department at your school has its own horror stories, considering the prevalence of drug and alcohol addiction in the workplace. A 2007 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa .gov) revealed that more than 16 million drug users and an estimated 15 million alcoholics hold full-time jobs. Pretty scary stuff. So how should HR go about educating supervisors about how to identify and manage employees with substance abuse problems? Although most higher education institutions support an employee assistance program (EAP), do your managers and supervisors know what to do before EAP steps in? Many do not, opening the door to potential lawsuits, workplace injuries, and declining productivity—not to mention destroying longterm relationships with valued employees that could have been otherwise salvaged. Here are three key actions to take. MAKE THEM AWARE Substance abuse policies probably exist on every campus, but employees must know they exist, understand them, and learn how to apply them. Relying on people to read the employee handbook rarely works. Managers often lack skills needed to carry on crucial conversations with staff. All supervisors working for the Nevada System of Higher Education—which includes the University of Nevada’s Las Vegas and Reno campuses and the College of Southern Nevada—complete a two-hour mandatory workshop on alcohol and drug testing, then take a refresher course every several years, explains Kevin Ingram, a training officer for the state of Nevada’s Office of Employee Development, located in Las Vegas. As government employees, he adds, they learn about the state’s statutory and regulatory requirements. Everything they must do is clearly spelled out. Very little is left up to their discretion. The workshop identifies a variety of protocols that managers must observe, ranging from completing drug impairment forms to ensuring that an impaired employee is safely driven home. Ingram says there are several reasons for such a highly structured approach: It protects schools against lawsuits involving discrimination and minimizes their liability as well as work-related injuries. It also helps ensure that best practices are consistently being applied across the workplace. Any supervisor who ignores these rules may be disciplined or even terminated. Sometimes these practices may even uncover problems that no one suspected. “If employees are acting erratically, it may not be related to drugs or alcohol,” Ingram says. “In some cases, there were issues with other medications prescribed legally, or it was a mental health or medical issue.” FOCUS ON PERFORMANCE Issues of discrimination or retaliation will pop up when supervisors or managers act as unlicensed psychiatrists. “I see supervisors smell alcohol and jump to the [wrong] conclusion,” says Alan Cohn, a licensed clinical social worker and director of faculty, staff, and employee relations at the University of Virginia. “That’s a liability, a legal issue. They’re not mental health experts and should not make a diagnosis.” Other mistakes involve ignoring the situation, hoping it will disappear, or covering for employees so they don’t lose their jobs. Some supervisors extend project deadlines, actually perform some of an impaired employee’s work, or assign easier tasks. But that only enables such employees, pushing them deeper into their addiction. If managers or supervisors suspect an employee has a substance abuse or alcohol problem, they must focus on the employee’s performance deficiencies—and nothing else. Cohn says this is often difficult for department leadership. He believes Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who specializes in covering HR issues. July 2008 | 31

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - July 2008

University Business - July 2008
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Editor's Note
Behind the News
Money Matters
Financial Aid
Human Resources
Students in Need, Schools at the Ready
Security Officers Speak Out
Advancement Goes Digital
A New Day for NASFAA
Sustainable Admissions
What's New
End Note

University Business - July 2008