Cannabis users often are stereotyped as being laid back, relaxed and chilled. Just watch an old Cheech and Chong movie and you’ll get the picture. But when it comes to safety in the workplace, complacency matters.
Without science, any response would be guessing, based on the evaluator’s bias with respect to being for or against legalization of cannabis. It will take research to determine if there’s a “complacency effect” that negatively affects employees’ performance in the workplace. The assumption is that a person who regularly uses cannabis is more relaxed, laid back and less likely to push themselves to their full potential.
As the legalization date of Oct. 17 approaches, many organizations are putting their final touches on their preparation for the recreational use of cannabis.
Some employers are not concerned and perhaps see the legalization of cannabis as a lot of hype that will not have any material impact on the workplace. An employer who takes this stance is most likely doing so because cannabis is a not a new drug to them. They’ve been managing it like other drugs such as opioids, cocaine and alcohol for many years.
The real difference with legalization of cannabis for recreational use and the anticipated increase in the number of employees using cannabis for medical purposes is the unknown.
The degree that the legalization of cannabis will have an effect on today’s workplace is simply not known at this time. To think it will have no effect would be naïve. We need only look to Colorado and other states where cannabis has been legalized to see that legalization brought not only more tax revenue but also more risk of motor vehicle deaths and increased risk for accidents and addiction.
Cannabis is an addictive, psychoactive substance that reacts differently in the body when it’s smoked or vaped compared to digested. There’ll be a learning curve for many employees to help ensure they’re safe and don’t put their employment at risk. Different than alcohol, where it takes the body an average of one hour to eliminate one ounce, the frequency of a person’s cannabis use influences how long the drug will stay in their body and therefore how long it can be detected by a urine test. For employees working in safety-sensitive workplaces, understanding fit for duty and how not to put themselves at risk will be a must to avoid putting their careers at risk. As well, employers would be wise not to assume that employees understand cannabis chemistry with respect to how cannabis acts in the human body.
I recently asked myself if cannabis, whether for recreational or medical use, would increase an employee’s risk for complacency in the workplace. In the context of the workplace, complacency would be working to one’s full potential with respect to output performance and ability to be safe.
When it comes to the employee’s performance, an increase in complacency could impact their health habits, which in turn may negatively impact their motivation to exercise and eat healthy, along with their engagement and productivity levels.
Three areas that predict employees’ success in the workplace are health, engagement and productivity. At Morneau Shepell we use a tool called the Total Health Index (THI) to measure employees’ physical and mental health, workplace experience and life — financial, relationships, work-life blending. Over the past 12 months, we have added an optional question to get a baseline of cannabis use and its impact on total health.
All clients who completed the THI with the cannabis question found a few interesting observations. The following chart lists five findings from this analysis. Based on our THI dataset, employees who don’t use cannabis have better total health, engagement and attendance and lower presenteeism (i.e., coming to work when feeling unwell).
What can’t be lost when looking at these findings is why people are using cannabis, which may help to explain why scores of those who are using cannabis are lower. These findings suggest that employees who don’t use cannabis on average have better health, engagement and productivity. Further studies and data will agree or disagree with these early findings.
The above findings don’t measure complacency. They only suggest that cannabis use may affect an employee’s performance. Complacency is defined as “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Will legalization of cannabis increase complacency in the workplace and give birth to the term “complacency effect”? Only time and research will tell.
The two to three years after Oct. 17 will be a time of discovery about what cannabis does and does not do to workforces, both positively and negatively. There most likely will be both. However, until we know, sage advice may be to not assume and to learn and prepare for the unknown.
Bill Howatt is chief research & development officer, workforce productivity, for Morneau Shepell and co-founder of V1 Coaching.
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