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Making the right impression – utility workers and the public

Today, with more and more public interface work done by computers and with smart meters keeping track of what customers are consuming, it’s less and less common for members of the public to meet utility workers face to face. Far from decreasing the importance of such meetings, this means that each one carries a lot more weight, contributing significantly to how people perceive the companies they engage with. In this context, it’s vital to make sure that company representatives measure up – and with drug and alcohol abuse among workers more common than ever, that poses a challenge for managers at every level.

Competence and professionalism

After taking pricing into account, the public are looking for two main things from utility companies. The first is competence: they need to feel confident that work done by engineers is safe and reliable and that their accounts will be properly managed. The second is professionalism: they want smooth communications and quick responses. In both cases, it’s vital for staff to make a good impression. Sending the wrong signals can lead to customers switching to other suppliers.

Unfortunately, one of the things that alcohol and drugs like cocaine do is to create a false sense of confidence and competence. This is part of the reason why some people abuse them. While workers may feel that they can still do their jobs while under the influence, customers who smell alcohol or see them struggling to focus are unlikely to feel the same way.

Pre-emptive action

Rather than let workers who may be abusing drugs or alcohol go out to meet the public and find out about it only after receiving complaints, it’s wise to institute a programme of spot testing to discourage such behaviour. If workers know that there’s a significant chance of them being caught, they’re less likely to take chances. Furthermore, it’s much easier to address the results of a failed test than to take disciplinary action over a complaint. In the latter case, there may be no trace of the offending substance left in the workers’ systems, and they can simply deny taking it.

Simple tests like the back to the lab collection kits from Matrix Diagnostics are easy to administer. Collecting samples doesn’t take much time or compromise worker privacy. For those keen to get immediate results, single dip tests used with urine samples can provide useful information in just five minutes. These are ideal for use in cases where workers have admitted to drug problems and agreed to try and stay sober, where it’s prudent to check before they go out in the field.

Ultimately, public-facing teams rely on trust, but testing for drug and alcohol misuse can help to build that trust. It gives other members of the team confidence that they’re not going to be let down by co-workers who are concealing addictions or simply not taking the job as seriously as they do. It also means that customers are far less likely to lose trust in the company.

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