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Drug use in the workplace: How to ensure a safe work environment

October 26, 2014

In November 2013, Timothy Hayes, a high-level executive at Google, was allegedly murdered by a lethal dose of heroin administered by a call girl. Tragic as this event is, it has opened up a rabbit hole that has revealed less about the questionable company of Mr. Hayes and more about the rampant drug use in Silicon Valley and its major tech companies.

This may come as a surprise to some, but the puzzle fits together rather easily when you look at the pieces. Large projects with strict deadlines, a singular focus on results and the constant drive for innovation create a high-stress environment. Employees are thrust into an industry with a Rickie Bobby-esque mindset (“If you’re not first, you’re last!”) that thrives on pushing the limits of technology. This competitive spirit has been known to drive employees to work for days on end with little to no sleep, fueled by coffee, energy drinks, and frequently, illicit drugs. Cali Estes, an addiction coach based in Miami, was consulted in an article published by on the subject. Estes says she has helped 200 tech workers from all of the well-known tech companies, adding that many of her clients are executives struggling with anything from painkillers and Adderall to cocaine and heroin.

So what does this mean for your company? states that nearly 75 percent of illegal drug users have jobs, and studies show that users of illegal drugs are less likely to be on time, get a lot of work done, be safe at work, or even show up. If Silicon Valley and tech culture in general suffer from a drug problem, how can you ensure a workplace free of illegal drugs and their consequences? Below are a few pointers at keeping all your employees happy and healthy:

  • Be proactive—Have a well-defined screening process for all potential employees, regardless of the source of their resume.
  • Be selective—If you’re using an IT staffing firm, make your expectations very clear. Make sure they also have an organized and defined screening process. Be upfront with them about the kind of candidate you want and your screening standards. If your vendor understands your expectations, they can better vet through applicants before setting up interviews.
  • Be methodical—Many new hires anticipate a drug test before starting work, but generally think they’re off the hook once they’re in the door. Requiring periodic or random drug testing for sensitive positions (annual, semiannual, etc.) can ensure your employees are upholding the expectations your company has set forth.
  • Be accountable—“I’m going to go to the gym three times this week and clean out the garage this weekend.” That statement looks great on paper but holds little value when you don’t deliver on your promise. The same is true in this scenario. Writing a policy and putting it in the employee handbook are great, but you have to keep up your end of the bargain. Hold yourself and your vendor accountable to these expectations. This will give your company credibility and help attract and retain the best talent in the industry.

Finally, in the event you discover a valued employee has a substance abuse problem, you might consider alternative methods of handling the problem than dismissal. If an employee does fail a drug test or there are glaring signs of addiction, you have the opportunity to be a resource to that employee. Help direct them to a rehab facility where they can get the help they need. While this is not a mandatory addition to your employee’s benefits package, the simple act of lending a helping hand shows that you value your employees and care about them both personally and professionally. Benefits like this can be part of a great Employee Value Proposition and show current and potential employees that you have their best interests at heart. 

With the results driven world that we live in, it is very easy to turn a blind eye to underlying issues when employees are performing at a high level. Incorporating these facets into your screening process will help ensure your employees keep performing at a level consistent with your firm’s expectations.

Want to better understand how to attract the best and brightest IT workers? Read our latest research: New Trends in the IT Job Search. Or learn 3 smart ways to keep top IT talent from leaving.

As a market research analyst, Jimmy Dyches spends his day collecting data on all things tech-related—and gaining valuable insight into current IT services and staffing trends.

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