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Training Prepares Workers for Drug Testing

May 1, 1993
Related Topics: Substance Abuse, Featured Article
In 1988, Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola Inc. became one of the first recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The following year, the electronics manufacturer made an alarming discovery: It had a problem with illegal-drug use among its workers.

In that year, Motorola made a net profit of nearly $500 million. The cost of drug use—in lost time, impaired productivity, and health-care and workers'-compensation claims—totaled $190 million, or nearly 40% of the company's net profit. This amount was more than Motorola paid in taxes that year and equivalent to the yearly salary of 8,000 of its domestic workers.

Of equal concern to Motorola executives was the fact that not only was the company losing money as a result of illegal drug use, but it also had the potential for losing ground on its quality standards as well. Having a drug problem was a definite contradiction to the company's key principles—to be the best in all aspects of its business and to have the best people.

Something had to be done. The company needed a drug-free policy and the means by which to enforce it. Motorola's human resources personnel considered implementing a random drug-testing program as its most viable option. To test this hypothesis, the HR staff formed 20 focus groups made up of employees from Motorola locations throughout the country. Each group comprised 20 to 25 people. Human resources presented the problem and discussed the idea of drug testing with each group.

The input from the focus-group participants confirmed management's perceptions of the scope of the drug problem at the organization. Some participants claimed that they were aware of at least 30% of the people in their work groups who were using drugs on the job. Because of this, Don Cramer, assistant corporate director of employee relations at Motorola, who's in charge of the drug-testing program, says that 85% of the focus-group participants favored the implementation of a drug-free policy and drug-testing program at the company.

Communication was the first concern.
Motorola set January 1, 1991, as the date the drug-testing program would begin. As a company known for its communicative environment, Motorola wanted plenty of time to inform all of its employees about the company's reasons for the policy and to explain to them the details of the program. It also hoped that education about the risks caused by drug users would cause nonusers to support and drive the testing program. It wouldn't be easy, however. Having 55,000 employees throughout the U.S. made achieving these communication goals a challenge.

To find a means to accomplish these tasks, Motorola looked to a competitor. Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc. was a year ahead of Motorola in implementing its drug-testing program, which was of a similar magnitude to the one that Motorola was contemplating. As a prelude to testing, Texas Instruments had put its supervisors through a formal training program that helped them, in turn, communicate the program effectively to employees.

Bill Oliver, executive director of Atlanta-based The Passage Group, designed Texas Instruments' training program. Motorola hired him to design a similar training program. "We had the advantage of being able to see what he had done in putting together the program for Texas Instruments," says Cramer, "so then we started working with Bill to develop a program that we thought would be appropriate for Motorola."

Along with representatives from employee relations, occupational health and safety, employee assistance, facilities and operations management, Oliver became part of the implementation team. The team spent 10 months and close to $1.5 million developing the training program. Although it drew from Texas Instruments' training for the base of information, the team had to design its program to incorporate Motorola's philosophies and culture. "There are some basic issues that need to be covered that remain consistent from company to company," says Oliver. "It's the corporate culture, which varies from corporation to corporation, that must be tapped into when training. What we did was create a program tailored for Motorola that used its language and its communication methods."

For example, Motorola's culture calls for frequent, open communications. To be consistent with the culture required that the company employ a variety of communication methods to supplement the formal, video-based training program that all employees would go through before the testing began. These supplemental communications included internal newspaper articles, employee discussion groups and one-on-one discussion sessions between supervisors and employees. In addition, Cramer set up a special hot line at the company's headquarters that could be accessed from any company location. These communication techniques continued throughout the five-month training period.

Train the trainers to communicate the drug issue.
The crux of the training was a videotaped presentation. Eighty supervisors who were to become facilitators received this training first. These management people came from various departments. Some of them had volunteered for the task, some had been selected by their supervisors, and some of them had been chosen by human resources because of their previous experience with supervisor training. These supervisors, in turn, trained 7,000 to 8,000 supervisors at all levels.

The video presentation was divided into five modules and lasted five hours. "We put the information on video because that provides a consistent presentation of the information and facts," says Oliver. "Instead of putting the video into the hands of the training department, however, we put it into the hands of line supervisors to lead the program. They implemented and drove the program—and taught each other."

  • The basic issues that the supervisor training covered were:
  • Reasons for the drug-free policy and drug-testing program
  • Details of the drug-testing program, including procedures and consequences
  • Supervisors' roles in dealing with the policy and the drug-testing program
  • Procedures for supervisors to set up communication meetings with their employees
  • Suggestions for handling employee concerns and questions.

The program began with the video addressing Motorola's reasons for having a drug-free policy. This section of the training focused on Motorola's fundamental objective: to have total customer satisfaction. In the video, Oliver explains how the average drug user is late three times more often than the nonuser, is absent 3 1/2 times more often, files 3 1/2 times more medical claims and files 5 1/2 times more workers'-compensation claims. Being 30% less productive than the nonuser, the drug user isn't contributing fully toward reaching the company's objectives.

"Other corporations might have told employees, 'Here's the program'; if you don't like it, too bad.' Motorola doesn't operate that way."

The next section of the training video explains the drug policy and drug-testing program in detail (see "How Motorola Enforces Its Drug-free Policy"). Following this, the videotape communicates to the supervisors what their roles and responsibilities are in dealing with the drug-testing program. It answers such questions as:

  • What action should I take if one of my employees refuses to take the test?
  • What do I need to do when one of my employees tests positive?

The next two sections focus on training the supervisors to communicate about the drug policy and testing program to employees. "Motorola has a very participative corporate culture," says Oliver. "Where other corporations may be more directive in their approach to this issue, such as telling employees, 'Here's the program; if you don't like it, too bad,' Motorola doesn't operate that way. We've captured the participative culture and applied it to this issue."

The supervisors learned how to hold meetings with their workers that allowed for discussions about the policy. The training taught them how to answer questions and handle employee concerns. It answered such questions as:

  • How do I handle employees' objections without entering into a debate with them?
  • How do I communicate one-on-one with individuals who have legitimate concerns?

Supervisors communicate with employees. Having learned the fundamentals needed to communicate with their employees, Motorola supervisors set up discussion sessions for their work groups. They presented a one-hour video program to their employees that included the first two modules of the supervisor training, which covered the reasons for the drug policy, and the specifics of the policy and testing program. The video presentation also explained the testing process, detailing how the collection process works and showing, through example, how employees would be treated when they went in for a test. In addition, the organization's director of quality explained via videotape how the laboratory functions, and he assured employees that he and other company officers had examined the lab's processes for error potential.

Cramer says that the time and the money spent for the training program were worth it. "The training pretty well did the deed in educating our people about what the program is, why we are doing it and how it works," he says. "It alleviated a lot of fears that employees had." He admits that some employees don't believe that drug testing is appropriate for the company. "We still get negative letters from employees, but they're in the minority," Cramer says.

Although the education process hasn't convinced all employees that drug testing is acceptable, it has let them all know how the process works and what the consequences are for negative tests. "I think that employees, recognizing that they ultimately could be subjected to termination from employment, have helped themselves as far as drug use is concerned," says Cramer. "I think the deterrent effect has been a strong one." Cramer says that the number of people who have tested positive for drugs has been smaller than the company expected.

Cramer says that the company hasn't done any calculations since the program began to determine the current cost of drug use. The drug-testing program costs are known, however. The company pays between $750,000 and $1 million a year to operate the program. Cramer says that Motorola is comfortable with the amount it spends on the program, although it's tough to justify it in concrete figures. He believes that not having the program could result in even higher costs, citing a published American Airlines incident as evidence. He says that a computer operator who reportedly was high on drugs failed to load a tape into a computer. "That singular action cost American Airlines $19 million in computer down-time," Cramer says. A similar incident at Motorola could seriously impact both its bottom line and its quality standing. Cramer hopes that his drug policy and testing program will prevent that from happening.

Personnel Journal, May 1993, Vol. 72, No. 5, pp. 52-59.

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