Working Wounded: Toking Up in the Office
Drugs and the workplace: how to handle difficult situations.
Jan. 4, 2008 — -- Dear WOUNDED: I work closely with a guy who I think is high all the time. I'm not trying to tell him how to live his life, but I'm scared that he'll do something stupid and hurt himself and the rest of us. What can I do?
ANSWER: There are many military buffs out there who enjoy keepsakes from the military. One particular adult education teacher had a 40-mm shell he'd found on a hunting trip as a paperweight on his desk. He figured the shell must be inert. One day a bug crawled across his desk. The teacher promptly picked up the shell and slammed it on the insect. Far from inert, the shell exploded giving the teacher burns and shrapnel lacerations on his hand, forearm and torso.
Some would argue that a limited amount of recreational drug use is relatively inert. However, when it comes to the workplace, drug use often seems more like that unexploded ordinance, an explosion just waiting to happen. I'll outline three dos and one don't for dealing with a co-worker who you suspect may be using drugs. For more, check out Gini Graham Scott's book "Managing Employees From Hell" (Amacom, 2007).
DO Get professional advice. I'm not asking you to put your co-worker in an arm lock and muscle them to The Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It's the old "you can lead a horse to water," but you can't make them think! Get professional advice. There are lots of people out there who have made a career out of spotting and working with people who are using drugs or alcohol. Don't reinvent the wheel here, get the pros on your side.
DO Be a supporter, not a cop. Your co-worker doesn't need someone to play snitch and bust him at work. So take off that badge and step away from your role as enforcer. No, what your co-worker needs is someone who looks out for them. So pull them aside and let them know that you care. Tell them an EAP success story. Let them know you'll be there as they address their challenges.
DO it. Many people make it through getting advice and being a supporter. But they freeze when it's actually time to defuse a possible drug-induced explosion by implementing the plan they've carefully constructed. That's why it's so important to remember that good intentions are great, but you are trying to disarm a time bomb and the clock is ticking. So don't get sucked into paralysis of analysis, just do it.
DON'T Forget others are watching.Work is a community, a gossipy, the-walls-have-eyes-kind-of-neighborhood. So you need to remember that nothing happens in a vacuum, other people are always watching. So as you approach your co-worker also reflect on how others will evaluate your actions. Will you be seen as insensitive? As being holier than thou? Or as a friend and colleague?
Follow these tips and hopefully this problem won't blow up in anyone's face at work.
"The innkeeper loves the drunkard, just not as a son-in-law." — Yiddish proverb
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Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. He'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than he does. His books include "The Boss's Survival Guide" and "Gray Matters: The Work place Survival Guide." Send your questions or comments to him via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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