Drug abuse in the workplace can be a serious threat to the integrity of your company and the safety of your employees.
With alcohol and substance abuse rife in South Africa, the probability of having to deal with this issue at some point with one or more of your employees, is highly probable. Understanding the impact of these issues in the workplace can help you tackle the problem more effectively and help maintain a healthy and productive work force.
There are a number of problems that arise as a direct result of drug abuse, both in general and in the workplace. The first, and most obvious, are the potential psychological and health risks that prolonged substance abuse leads to. From a professional perspective, this can lead to excessive leave days being taken, meaning a loss in productivity, declining employee morale, and even loss of business.
However, even in cases where these employees do come to work, they are likely to be feeling the effects of a hangover or withdrawal symptoms, further reducing their ability to work. You will likely find such an employee sleeping on the job, making poor business decisions, or even affecting the morale and productivity of those around them. Such a loss of concentration can reflect poorly on your business and even potentially lead to loss of clients and business.
Another key issue that directly correlates with workplace substance abuse is how the culprit funds their habit. It is an all too common scenario where a drug user’s addiction outstrips their monthly income, forcing them to resort to petty crime to feed their cravings.
What might start out as selling personal belongings at home for extra cash may eventually spill over into their office environment. In these cases, you might find items from the office may begin to disappear or, more seriously, company funds being misappropriated. Unless you are actively keeping an eye out for such behaviour, it might be hard to catch. The simplest and most effective way of combating this type of crime is to react to any potential leads as soon as they arise.
These issues beg the question: what can a company do to either prevent or manage these situations? There are a number of options available to a business that can help. Though not mandatory, they can often be the difference between losing employees due to drug abuse, or rehabilitating them and positively affecting their personal lives at the same time.
As with screening programmes, substance abuse or employee assistance programmes (EAP) are generally overlooked until such a time as your business actually needs one. While these may increase company costs, they can help save money in the long-term by minimising the need to constantly fill positions and retrain new employees to fill the void. Ensure that your business maintains a strict drug-free work environment policy and make the consequences of acting against this clear.
Local legislation also requires South African businesses and their leaders to extend some form of assistance to the employee in terms of counselling or rehabilitation, as outright dismissal is almost impossible. The extent of this assistance will depend on what the company can afford and whether or not the employee willingly participates. The best option is to call in an HR expert before confronting the employee in question.
As with any employee-risk situation, a proactive approach is the best approach. A drug and alcohol policy must form part of the employee contract and perhaps also form part of the initial and ongoing screening process, so that potential challenges can be addressed before they arise.