GE Johnson tackling substance abuse

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Jim Johnson shown on a GE Johnson construction site.

The story Jim Johnson uses to illustrate the dangers of alcohol and drug problems on a construction site is made up, but that doesn’t make the takeaway any less true or powerful.

Imagine a crane operator moving tons of steel on a construction site after spending a restless night with his wife worrying about their 15-year-old daughter, who is experimenting with drugs and alcohol, who didn’t come home the night before.

“I have made this story up. It’s not based upon an example I drew upon in our industry,” said Johnson, president and CEO of the GE Johnson Co., one of the largest general contractors in the state.

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G.E. Johnson built the U.S. Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs.

“But I think we can all agree that a crane operator is a very pivotal job on a job site and he may not be fully focused on his job if he is worrying about his daughter,” said Johnson, 58, whose father, Gil, founded GE Johnson in Colorado Springs more than a half-century ago. The company remains headquartered in the Springs.

GE Johnson tackling substance abuse

GE Johnson is doing its part to help tackle the problem of substance abuse by offering a new coaching program for employees and their loved ones.

The construction industry ranked No. 2 in terms of heavy alcohol use and fifth for illicit drug use, according to a national survey released in 2015.

And, as Johnson’s story shows, drug and alcohol abuse can pose a danger on a construction site even if the worker is not stoned or drunk on the job.

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Jim Johnson

“Nobody and no industry is immune,” Johnson said. “You can’t talk to anyone for five minutes without finding out either they, a family member or someone they know has gone through this.”

Indeed, while the crane operator story was not real, Johnson has had the terrible task of comforting employees who lost his son to a drug overdose.

Face it Together

To address the growing addiction problem, Johnson recently enrolled all of his company’s employees in a program provided by a Denver nonprofit called Face It Together.

Face It Together provides unlimited support to employees and their loved ones in person, over the phone or through a secure video.

“It’s a bit more expensive than a traditional employee assistance program,” but not a huge amount more, Johnson said.

While 500 million workdays are lost annually due to addiction, 72 percent of Face It Together program participants maintain or improve employment after 30 days of coaching.

Ingalls: Economic benefits abound

“We’re proud to partner with a company like GE Johnson and applaud their leadership in supporting their team members, strengthening their culture and tackling a critical issue facing our communities and nation,” said Jane Ingalls, president of Face It Together.

The program, Ingalls noted, isn’t just for companies that want to do the right thing. There are substantial financial and economic benefits to dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.

“Our program is easy to implement and gives employers an alternative to help their employees recover and reduce costs related to turnover, absenteeism and productivity,” Ingalls added.

In addition to helming Face It Together, Ingalls is the founder of Artemis Consulting Group, which advises boards and business leaders on business challenges, urgent matter and crisis situations.

Before launching Artemis in 2006, Ingalls was the senior vice president of corporate communications and the chief of staff to the CEO of Janus Capital Mutual Funds.

Johnson learned about Face it Together after it was given a grant by the Denver-based Daniels Foundation, founded by the late cable TV pioneer Bill Daniels.

GE Johnson, like many companies, tests employees for drugs, including marijuana, before they are hired.

And if they are involved in an accident on a site, they are tested again. If they are found to be “hot,” they are fired.

Firing doesn’t address the problem

But after meeting with Face it Together, he began to look at the problem more intensely.

“It’s not a case of us being in denial,” Johnson said.

However, an honest appraisal made him realize that they weren’t being very proactive in dealing with a growing problem that plagues not only the construction industry, but all industries.

“When we asked ourselves what are we doing to help them, the honest answer was, “Not a darn thing.”

It didn’t take the board long to approve offering the program as a benefit.

“This is the kind of company that GE Johnson wants to be,” he said. “We really think we are doing the right thing.”

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GE Johnson built the Coloradan in downtown Denver.

He knows that at least a dozen people from GE Johnson have used Face It Together since they came on board with the program last December.

For privacy reasons, he doesn’t know who they are, what problems they were addressing and whether it was employees or family members that used the service.

Marijuana use an issue in Colorado

GE Johnson tests for marijuana use, despite it being legal in Colorado.

“We haven’t seen a spike in people testing positive for marijuana,” Johnson said. “But I suspect a lot of people don’t ride our elevator to seek a job at GE Johnson once they learn of our policy.”

Today, he said it is common knowledge that some subcontracting firms don’t test people for marijuana or other drugs when they hire them because there is such a shortage of workers.

“That’s not a solution,” Johnson said.

Colorado should be a national model

Johnson began working on construction sites when he was 15.

“I remember when I was young, there were times when the superintendent sent someone home because they looked like they had been partying a little too hard the night before,” he recalled.

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You don’t want workers impaired by drugs or alcohol on a construction site.

What he would like to see is more companies in the construction industry enroll in program like Face It Together.

“Wouldn’t it be great if 80 percent of the subcontractors in this state signed up for programs like this and Colorado became a national leader and a model for the rest of the country?”

If you scratch the surface of just about any deal, there is a story behind it. The Rebchook Real Estate Corner looks at the what and who that make the Colorado commercial real estate industry spin every Tuesday and Thursday online at CREJ.com. The people behind the deals are passionate about what they do, whether they focus on offices, apartments, industrial, retail, land or lending. They also are passionate about their clients. Given the cyclical nature of commercial real estate, those who prosper in it have plenty of stories to tell. I hope to share them with you. 

This column includes news stories, in-depth looks at deals, profiles, Q&As and pieces on the latest trends. Contact John with story tips at JRCHOOK@gmail.com or 303-945-6865.

If you scratch the surface of just about any deal, there is a story behind it. The Rebchook Real Estate Corner looks at the what and who that make the Colorado commercial real estate industry spin every Tuesday and Thursday online at CREJ.com. The people behind the deals are passionate about what they do, whether they focus on offices, apartments, industrial, retail, land or lending. They also are passionate about their clients. Given the cyclical nature of commercial real estate, those who prosper in it have plenty of stories to tell. I hope to share them with you. 

This column includes news stories, in-depth looks at deals, profiles, Q&As and pieces on the latest trends. Contact John with story tips at JRCHOOK@gmail.com or 303-945-6865.

John Rebchook has been taking the pulse of the Denver-area and Colorado commercial real estate world for almost 35 years. He joined the editorial staff of CREJ in 2011. Prior to that, he was the Real Estate Editor of the Rocky Mountain News from 1983 until it closed in 2009.