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Cannabis users aren't worse employees, study finds

Cannabis users aren’t worse employees, study finds

Using cannabis does not harm employee performance or their ability to work well with colleagues, and may actually improve their job performance — as long as they partake outside of their working hours, a new study has found. 

The study, published in the journal Group & Organization Management, found that “cannabis use before and during work negatively relates to task performance, organization-aimed citizenship behaviors, and two forms of counterproductive work behaviors. At the same time, after-work weed use was not related (positively or negatively) to any form of performance as rated by the user’s direct supervisor.”

In fact, the researchers posited that after work pot use may actually improve job performance, in that “with the relaxation and somnolence induced by marijuana, employees might restore resources spent during the day and subsequently wake with more energy and resources to devote to their job once back on the clock.”

The study collected data from 281 employees and their direct supervisors and looked at the relationship between five forms of workplace performance and three temporal pot use measures (use before work, use during work, use after work). 

The sample population was 47% male, 53% female, and 65% white. More than half (56%) had either a four-year college degree or a graduate degree, and the average age was 36. 

The employees were asked to self report how frequently they have used weed within 2 hours of starting a work shift, how many times in the past year they have smoked during the workday, and how many times within the last year they have used marijuana within 2 hours of leaving work. 

The supervisors, meanwhile, were asked to evaluate their employees task performance by way of a seven item measure, and their citizenship behavior through 14 items. 

The researchers stated that the results “indicate using cannabis before or during work harmed four of five different dimensions of performance rated by the user’s direct supervisor, yet contrary to commonly held assumptions, not all forms of marijuana use harmed performance.” 

They found that after-work pot use “did not relate to any of the workplace performance dimensions,” and that this finding “casts doubt on some stereotypes of cannabis users.”

The researchers wrote that these findings, along with further research they gathered in the study, “suggest a more nuanced conceptualization of cannabis as it relates to the workplace.” Whereas such dynamics seem potentially harmful when on the job, the same dynamics may be less harmful and perhaps beneficial once off the clock, in particular in terms of stress relief.

While cannabis use has “exploded over the last decade,” workplaces are still drug testing applicants and employees “based on dated research (from the 1970s and 1980s) and questionable assumptions (e.g., using cannabis in one’s free time would show up on the job, assumptions about the type of person that uses cannabis, etc.),” said San Diego State University Professor Jeremy Bernerth, who compiled the study along with Auburn University’s Professor H. Jack Walker.

Bernerth told The Cannigma that these workplaces have also not updated their perceptions of cannabis users, who today are “just as likely to have a 4-year college degree as they are to share some of those previous stereotypical characteristics. With so many new users, it’s critical for organizations that use drug tests to show there is validity to their practices. To do otherwise, might open them up to potential legal claims.”

Bernerth said that he wasn’t surprised by the findings of the study in that “when you look at the actual research, it seems many of the assumptions and stereotypes society holds are based more on conjecture than on actual empirical evidence.”

He added that moving forward there is a need for further research on the subject, so that assessments of worker performance and marijuana use can be based on actual evidence. 

“Our research indicates that using weed after work does no harm for your job performance overall, but why is that? Does cannabis help the user relax after a particularly difficult day? Does cannabis allow the user to get a better night’s sleep so that they wake feeling more energized and ready to go? Anecdotally it seems like that might be the case, but we [as a society] need to avoid making the same mistakes previous generations made.”

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