Matt Verdecchia | The TriStater

Harassment can have a detrimental effect in the workplace, yet identifying what exactly comprises harassment and distinguishing it from unprofessional disrespect can create a challenge for organizations.

It is important to remember that we work in the environment we create and tolerate. Every employee has the right to work in a respectful workplace. Every employee therefore has the responsibility to help create and maintain that culture. This applies at every level of the organization.

While easy to understand, this concept can sometimes be tough to put into practice. It is much easier to look away from inappropriate, disrespectful and potentially harassing behavior, rub a rabbit’s foot, and pray it goes away. With this approach, we do not have to get past our own barriers and can avoid confronting this behavior, setting an appropriate example, enforcing policies, and looking like the “bad guy, party pooper, goodie two-shoe leader,” etc. However, by doing so, we enable the behavior, we give it legs, essentially giving the perpetrator unspoken permission to continue.

This all may sound a tad harsh, but in today’s busy environment, it is often easier to ignore inappropriate behavior than to supportively confront and correct it. While you may disagree on this point, what remains important is reducing risk for your organization. Your organization may employ managers and supervisors who do not want to deal with this issue, or have never been trained and do not know how to deal with this issue – either way they will be held accountable for addressing potential incidents.

Although harassing behavior is obviously a major issue, for organizations, another significant problem is how leadership chooses to deal (or not deal) with the presenting behavior, person, department, or even corporate culture.

The culture of an organization can have a major impact on tolerance and treatment of harassment and other similar behaviors. Keep in mind that not everything someone does or says to someone else is “harassment.” In fact, it likely isn’t. However, it may be disrespectful. There is no law that states “I have to respect you.” This behavior may constitute bullying, and there is also no law that states “I cannot bully you.” Although neither disrespect nor bullying are technically harassment or illegal, this does not mean these behaviors should be condoned or considered appropriate in your company’s culture.

This reinforces the importance of having policies and procedures in place to maintain a safe, productive work environment, including a code of conduct or ethics policy to help manage behavior and productivity. So even though the behavior is not illegal, it likely goes against company policy and is therefore subject to discipline. Managers, supervisors, and others in leadership roles are responsible for managing employee behavior and performance, including creating, maintaining and reinforcing the company culture.

Within the workplace, diversity and our differences contribute positively to the company culture. However, these same differences can also impact individual employee behavior. Even if the behavior is not considered harassment (i.e., against protected classes), it is important to remember that people have different levels of tolerance or perspective on what is appropriate or “reasonable,” and finding a consensus can be difficult. I believe in flexibility – a willingness to bend, stretch, and lean. It is in most people’s power to choose to acclimate to an organizational environment/culture. We hire not only for skills but for cultural adaptability. When incidents arise, it is possible to professionally address these issues and behaviors. If they persist, we have policy to assist and guide us as to a reasonable course of action. But when it comes to harassment – that stepping over the line between disrespectful, out-of-bounds behavior and into the realm of illegal harassment – we must be fair, objective, consistent, prompt, and “reasonable” in the enforcement of the policy, regardless of who the offending person is and what position they hold. Appropriately addressing these incidents in a timely manner will have a positive impact on company culture while mitigating risk for the organization. Remember: a respectful work environment is a safer work environment.

Join Health Advocate at the CUPA-HR Spring Conference, when Matt Verdecchia, MS, CEAP, Senior Trainer/Organizational Development with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life Division, will present a concurrent session on HR’s Role in Addressing Behavioral Health on Campus and in the Workplace on Saturday, March, 30, at 1:15 p.m., ET.

Join Health Advocate at the annual Delaware SHRM State Conference, when Matt Verdecchia, Senior Trainer/Organizational Development with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life Division will present a session called The Changing Face of Substance Abuse in the Workplace: How to Respond? In this session participants will learn how to identify potential misuse or abuse among employees, as well as strategies to guide employees toward resources to help.

Episode 18: Managing Employee Stress

Whether stemming from work issues or their personal lives, most employees will experience stress at some point in time, and the impact can be detrimental to the organization. In this episode of Health Advocate’s Ask the Expert series, Matt Verdecchia, a senior trainer with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life program, shares how employers can take steps to more effectively understand and manage employee stress at work.

Join Health Advocate at the annual conference of the HR Florida State Council, a state affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This is one of the largest human resources conferences in the state of Florida. On August 28 at 4:15 PM ET, Cindy Persico, Regional EAP Vice President for Health Advocate, will present Hurricanes and their Aftermath: Lessons Learned for Effective Trauma Response. Additionally, Matt Verdecchia, Senior Trainer/Organizational Development with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life Services, will present a session on August 29 at 9:45 AM ET, entitled Coping with Substance Abuse and Overuse in the Workplace.

Episode 14: Health and Benefits for Higher Ed

Colleges and universities are unique when it comes to providing healthcare and other benefits and resources to their populations, including faculty, staff and students. In this episode of Health Advocate’s Ask the Expert series, we welcome back Matt Verdecchia, Senior Trainer and Organizational Development Lead with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life division, to discuss health and benefits issues specifically impacting higher education institutions.

Despite what recent headlines may lead you to believe, misuse and abuse of opioids, as well as dependence on these drugs, is not a new problem. Opium and some of its derivatives are millennia old. What is new is the growing impact in the workplace.

As prescriptions for medications to manage pain have increased, so have addiction and its consequences. This issue is far reaching and widespread, affecting organizations within every industry and region. Further, its effects spread well beyond the individuals involved and have negative repercussions for the entire organization.

Now is the time to take action to address opioids in your workplace.

Understanding the Disease of Dependence

The first step to addressing the issue of substance abuse in the workplace is to understand that chemical dependence on alcohol or drugs like opioids is a disease, not a moral failure. In the case of opioids, these substances have medicinal value for many people, however they are highly addictive.

The majority of issues start with a legitimate prescription to manage pain related to an injury or condition. Over time, this morphs into abuse or misuse, sometimes to the point where the affected person needs the drugs to function normally and may become sick without them. In order to help those negatively impacted by opioids, it is critical to remove the stigma attached to this issue.

Dependence on opioids has now reached pandemic proportions. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 2 million Americans misuse or abuse prescription pain medications or heroin, another opioid.

There is no profile or demographic definition of someone misusing or abusing these substances – it affects all ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, education levels, tax brackets, areas of the country, and occupations. According to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional overdose deaths now exceed deaths caused by car accidents.

Acknowledging the Reality of Opioids

This problem is widespread, and if it’s not something you’ve encountered previously, unfortunately, it’s likely to occur in the near future. Because of the breadth and depth of opioid use in this country, it is important organizations acknowledge that this is occurring and may happen in their workplace. People rely on these medications all the time, and unfortunately, it can sometimes develop from medicinal use to addiction.

It may help to think of substance abuse in the same category as other chronic illnesses. It is a serious disease that, in many cases, cannot be prevented by the individual or their employer–however, it is possible to decrease risk to the organization if handled appropriately.

Reducing Risk to Create a Safe Work Environment

There are a number of strategies that can help organizations effectively minimize risk while protecting all employees.

  • Education and training. This is key to raising awareness of the issue among the entire workforce, including those affected who might be in denial. To reduce the stigma surrounding opioids, experts can help explain the difference between practical uses of these medications versus abuse, as well as how to identify those at risk. Rather than discussing only the dangers of opioid use, focus on how this issue impacts everyone, from personal and family issues to finances.
  • Ongoing support of all employees. Ensure programs and resources are in place to support the individual as well as those around them within and beyond the workplace. Keep in mind that employees who are not taking opioids themselves may have family members at home experiencing addiction, which can still impact their productivity, focus and health.
  • Reconsider policies. It is time to revisit zero tolerance or “drug free workplace” policies. Experience has shown that these can backfire and prevent people from seeking help. Further, some employees may need to responsibly take medications while at work to manage pain, not unlike treatment for other conditions. When creating or revising policies, focus on helping those in need, not punishing those impacted by this issue.

A safe work environment where employees feel supported is more productive and allows people to do their best work.

The Role of Employee Assistance Programs

There are many resources available to help organizations establish policies and take action to address opioids in the workplace, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). For organizations who work with an EAP, experts are often available to offer insights on company policies, provide training to all employees and work with individuals who may be experiencing challenges that could indicate a potential issue.

Through onsite training, EAPs can help provide both a proactive and preventive response, helping to dispel myths around this issue and reset stereotypes or preconceived notions of “users.” By destigmatizing substance abuse and clarifying the role of EAPs, it is possible to more effectively identify employees who may need support or assistance, at which time the EAP can help with referrals to counseling or treatment as needed.

In the face of increasing misuse and abuse of opioids, their use continues to create challenges in the workplace as organizations determine the best path forward. Opioids can be a valuable, effective medication to manage pain and physical suffering—however it’s necessary to utilize available resources and provide education, support and treatment to address potential issues for those employees at risk.

Episode 8: Understanding Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment and disrespect can have a detrimental effect on the workplace. Understanding the difference between insensitive behavior and harassment and learning how to respond can decrease liability for organizations. In this episode of Health Advocate’s Ask the Expert series, Matt Verdecchia, Senior Trainer and Organizational Development Lead with Health Advocate’s EAP+Work/Life division, discusses how organizations can prevent and address harassment in their workplace.