Researchers have found that using cannabis after work hours does not adversely affect employee job performance, according to a study published recently in the journal Group & Organization Management. The study, “Altered States or Much to Do About Nothing? A Study of When Cannabis Is Used in Relation to the Impact It Has on Performance,” was conducted by researchers with San Diego State University in California and Alabama’s Auburn University.
The study examined the effect that cannabis use before, during, and after work hours had on job performance as assessed by employees’ direct supervisors. The authors noted that despite the widespread use of workplace drug screenings, “there is virtually no empirical research exploring cannabis use in relation to the modern workplace.”
The researchers examined the task performance, willingness to help colleagues or the organization, and counterproductive work behavior of 281 employees. The study correlated those factors with the timing of employees’ reported cannabis use, finding that using marijuana before or during work hours contributed to “counterproductive work behaviors,” while “after-work cannabis use was not related (positively or negatively) to any form of performance as rated by the user’s direct supervisor.”
The authors noted that “contrary to commonly held assumptions, not all forms of cannabis use harmed performance. In fact, after-work cannabis use did not relate to any of the workplace performance dimensions. This finding casts doubt on some stereotypes of cannabis users and suggests a need for further methodological and theoretical development in the field of substance use.”
Can Pot Improve Job Performance?
Dr. Jeremy Bernerth, an associate professor at the SDSU Fowler College of Business and one of the study’s authors, said that some cannabis use may actually improve job performance, although the research did not reveal any direct evidence to support the notion.
“Individuals deciding to consume cannabis after finishing their work may be able to distract themselves from stressful on-the-job issues,” said Bernerth. “The relaxation induced by cannabis may help employees restore energy spent during the day and they may subsequently return with more stamina to devote to their job once they are back on the clock.”
“The findings are obviously consequential for scholars and organizations who believe that all cannabis use negatively impacts workplace behaviors,” added Bernerth. “Our research suggests there is no evidence that after-work usage compromises work performance as assessed by one’s direct supervisor.”
Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that the research calls the usefulness of workplace drug screenings into question.
“Suspicionless marijuana testing never has been an evidence-based policy,” he said. “Rather, these discriminatory practices are a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs.’ But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality.”
Bernerth said that research into the effectiveness of drug screenings could eventually lead to the end of the practice.
“Since our study shows that off-the-job cannabis use has little to no impact on workplace performance, organizations will be hard-pressed to provide legally defensible justifications for the continuation of policies prohibiting all forms of cannabis use,” he said.