Addiction In The Workplace

Addiction In The Workplace

Recent statistics on drug abuse estimates that approximately 13.3% of the adult South African population struggle with addiction. Drug and alcohol addiction affects every aspect of a person’s life, including their work. Employers can play a meaningful role in helping employees prevent and deal with addiction in the workplace. Although an employee’s personal life doesn’t fall within the responsibilities of an employer, individuals who are suffering from addiction quite often carry addiction-related side effects with them into the workplace.

These side effects may include, but is not limited to an increase in absenteeism, theft, injuries and loss of productivity, which leads to unnecessary costs to the employer. Higher than usual staff turn-over rates, as a direct cause of these behaviors, lead to even more costs when the employer is forced to recruit and train new staff. Not to mention the burden this places on senior management to facilitate disciplinary procedures.

Employees Less Effective

It is a known fact that employees who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol struggle to focus, are less effective at completing tasks and are poor decisions makers. Constant preoccupation with using and/or obtaining their substance of choice negatively affect job performance; a less than desired outcome for any employer that pays a good salary for a value adding outcome.

Apart from the personal implication of such substance abuse, it could also have a negative impact on co-workers, especially the ones that work close to them on a regular basis. Unacceptable behavior, such as tardiness and sleeping on the job put additional pressure on co-workers in the form of heavier workloads, which often lead to unnecessary conflict within the team. In extreme cases, these substances could even make them unmanageable to their supervisors and cause health problems that can add additional stress on the rest of the team as a result of them taking more sick leave; all of these a recipe for a very toxic work environment. Consequently, team morale will also take a big knock.

Illegal Behaviors At Work

Another real problem that employers potentially face is illegal activities in the work place, such as selling drugs to other employees, bribery and fraud. If not monitored and acted upon in a very decisive way, it could lead to more serious behaviors and activities, exposing the employer to unprecedented risk. It could even ruin a company’s reputation.

Preventing substance abuse in the workplace is not just generally accepted to be best practice, it is also regulated in South Africa by the Operational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which applies to any business or industry. The Operational Health and Safety Act, General Safety Regulation 2A states that every employer has a duty to stop employees from entering a work site or remaining at work if they appear to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

Employee Assistance Programs

Companies can address substance abuse in their employee population by implementing substance abuse policies and establishing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Regular alcohol and drug testing at work can also assist with identifying employees who are struggling. Substance abuse policies need to include full details of procedures to be followed when doing testing, outlined as a step-by-step process. Education is extremely important in the prevention and intervention of addiction in the workplace, as it aids in reducing the stigma and increasing the likelihood that employees will ask for help.

Companies can assist their personnel by providing the necessary access they need to address their addiction, and offer them support on their road to recovery. Employers who offer appropriate interventions and treatment for addicted employees will benefit by reduced absenteeism and increased productivity, as well as a safer work place.  These risk averting steps will ensure that the personal life of the employee’s will not affect the work environment, co-workers and the company’s customers.




Anel Bekker