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Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment Methods

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Use both qualitative and quantitative assessment methods to gain a thorough understanding of how substance use is affecting your workplace.

A study on workplace substance misuse prevention reports challenges associated with both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Use as many information sources as possible to produce the best results. Gather and analyze both qualitative and quantitative data to assess your workplace’s strengths and areas for improvement.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods are a good starting point when you begin your assessment. These methods can be useful for describing a situation and can provide insight for your intervention approach.


You can learn a lot by observing employees. Remember, however, that behaviors may be changed by the very act of observing. People are usually more self-conscious when they know that they are under observation. Along with training your supervisors to conduct observations, you may want to bring in a professional who is trained in conducting objective and discreet workplace observations.

Management Meetings

Meetings can be an effective place for introducing and discussing drug-free policies and programs. Raising the issue during meetings may help everyone understand that a drug-free workplace affects outcomes that are important to your employees, in both their professional and personal lives. In addition, you can clearly discuss the requirements, if any, of any drug-free workplace legislation or regulations that apply to your workplace. You can also use meetings to develop a policy and a program that will contribute to the well-being of your employees and your workplace.

Focus Groups

Focus groups include a facilitator, groups of supervisory and nonsupervisory employees, and a predetermined set of questions. The facilitator structures the interactions with the group members by asking a set of agreed-on questions and then following up, as appropriate, based on responses. This allows for in-depth probing of issues.

Focus groups also allow for interaction among the members of the group, which often stimulates further discussion and uncovers unanticipated issues and insights.

One-on-One Interviews

When conducted by a trained and objective facilitator, one-on-one interviews often provide a greater depth of knowledge and a more honest account of a situation than some other methods. The disadvantage of this approach is that it offers only one viewpoint. The experience of one person, or of a few people, might not be the experience of the entire organization. However, information from one-on-one interviews can still provide useful insights and help identify other issues for further investigation.

Expert Consultations

Consulting with experts can be extremely helpful for gaining a broader perspective on the issues that you might be facing in your particular workplace. You should consult with people who know your industry well, are familiar with your employees, and know the issues surrounding substance use in the workplace. These experts might include researchers, union representatives, employee assistance program (EAP) representatives, or human resource experts from other companies.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods are useful in that they often take less time to administer than qualitative methods. They are also easier to evaluate and may produce clearer, more objective results.

Pre-existing Records

In the workplace, gathering data from pre-existing records usually takes the form of statistics that were previously collected for other purposes. These are easy to obtain and compare. Consider records on the following, which have all been linked to substance use:

  • Absenteeism (especially on Mondays, Fridays, and the days after holidays)
  • Comparative health care claim costs, including costs associated with emergency room use
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Garnishment
  • High rates of accidents—especially those resulting in serious injuries or deaths
  • Inventory loss—"shrinkage" attributable to theft or damage
  • Turnover—especially for specific kinds of jobs or workers
  • Workers’ compensation costs

Self-report Surveys

Self-report surveys can be used as assessment tools. Remember that surveys have to be correctly designed and administered to ensure an acceptable degree of objectivity. To assess the needs and strengths of your workplace, you might ask the following questions, which were adapted from a 1996 survey by Gallup and the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace:

  • Do you feel safe at work?
  • Have you ever personally seen or heard of any on-the-job, illicit drug use by your coworkers?
  • Does your employer have a policy regarding workplace drug use?
  • Do you think your workplace would benefit from a workplace drug policy and program?

Some researchers use alcohol-screening surveys. Two widely respected alcohol-screening tools are the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the CAGE questionnaire, which was developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina.

Employees might underreport substance use out of fear of disciplinary action or job loss, despite assurances of confidentiality and anonymity. Studies on detecting alcoholism with the CAGE questionnaire and methods for assessing drug use prevalence in the workplace have raised concern about the validity of self-reported drug and alcohol use.

Drug Testing

Chemical drug testing is a more objective approach for assessing whether there is a drug use problem in the workplace. For some workplaces, especially where there are significant safety or security issues, drug testing is required by law. For most workplaces, drug testing is optional. Testing can be done at different points in the employment process—for example, for job applicants or for those who are already employed. It can be done for specific groups such as safety-sensitive positions, or it can be done for all workers. Because costs are associated with conducting drug testing, you might choose not to use this method for assessment.

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