Getting fired while asleep is relatively easy. This is if your poorly chosen spot to become inebriated happens to be your desk. Given the staggering amount of alcohol consumed locally, should South African businesses move to include substance abuse screening as part of the hiring process?
Whilst scouring the internet looking for real life accounts of the effects of substance abuse in the workplace, I stumbled upon a Reddit page where a poster asked “Bosses of reddit, what’s the worst employee you’ve ever had to deal with?”
Among the many, many often hilarious accounts of employee misconduct, was a gem posted by Reddit user, therealbighairy.
“I’m a security supervisor. I came in one morning, and found the nightshift guard asleep, with an empty cider bottle beside him.” he starts off, followed by an explanation that the cider in question is akin to what we South Africans would call ‘Wit Blits’. Continuing his account, the author proceeds to set up his computer, complete the paperwork to have the nightshift guard moved off site, waited an hour for a company rep to arrive, and have his morning coffee – all while the boozy guard kept on snoring.
“When he was cleaning out his locker, a whole bunch of empties fell out. He hadn’t even had the sense to toss them” the account concludes.
Back in June the Employee Risk Conference took place, with some amazing statistics coming to light. For starters, employers have a window of 27 days to replace an unsuitable employee before the distributed workload affects the performance of other employees. The cost involved in replacing an employee equals about a year’s salary. So the word “imperative” is quite fitting when discussing the need for employers to make sure they hire efficiently.
And it wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that South Africans generally love a good old “kuier”. Stats from the South African Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS) revealed that our drink of choice remains beer, with a staggering 3.1 billion litres (yes, with a “b”) consumed in 2015. Ready to drink wine (RTD) is next, at a mere 424 million litres consumed in the same year.
According to Wikipedia’s List of countries by alcohol consumption per capita, South Africa only clocks in at number 30 in terms of alcohol consumption. However, according to this document found on The Department of Trade and Industry website,
The consumption of alcohol in RSA appears to be limited to <50% of the population age 15+ years.
Can it be inferred, then, that 3.1 billion litres of beer and 424 million litres of RTD is consumed by less than half the population older than 15?
Popular statistics regarding drug abuse exist, too (but are less reliable). The prevalent notion is that 15% of South Africans have a drug problem, 60% of all crimes are related to substance abuse, and drug abuse apparently costs South Africa R60bn annually. I say less reliable, because these stats have been challenged by Africa Check. At best, it seems no one has a clear idea about the prevalence of drug abuse in South Africa. From the Africa Check website:
But a SACENDU scientist, Siphokazi Dada, told Africa Check, that they do not have information on the prevalence of drug use in South Africa’s population. The only figures they collect are the number of people being treated at government funded as well as private rehabilitation centres. Currently, SACENDU collects data from 70% of all treatment centres in the country.
How Substance Abuse Can Affect Your Business
Whether or not substance abuse is a hiring concern in your business, it’s important to be cognizant of the possible effects it may have on your business – a few of which include:
- Reduced productivity and efficiency (and a diminished bottom line)
- Higher chance of workplace accidents and safety hazards (and therefore legal claims)
- More medical claims
- Increased absenteeism and higher staff turnover
Employees suffering from substance abuse are more likely to:
- Have problems with perception and motor skills
- Suffer from anxiety, paranoia, depression, and violent behaviour
- Have difficulty concentrating and processing information
- Are more likely to make lapses in judgement
- Suffer any number of sudden health-related issues (e.g. seizures, convulsions, stroke)
Screening for Substance Abuse
Screening for substance abuse in South Africa isn’t yet as prevalent as it is in other countries. For one, asking job applicants to subject themselves to the necessary testing would not only be time consuming (as lab results may take days or weeks to be available), it could potentially damage employer-employee relationships from the get-go. Nevertheless, it remains an option.
Pre-employment polygraph testing, on the other hand, is much more feasible since testing takes about two hours and is also more affordable. The added benefit, aside from having testing performed at any pre-determined premises, is that the test can be customised to suit the needs of the employer. This makes it possible to, for example, determine substance abuse and verify certain CV credentials, all in one go.
Does all this mean you should invest in pre-employment polygraph testing or some other method to screen for drug and alcohol abuse? At the very least members of staff should be educated about the workplace warning signs of substance abuse – not least an employee falling asleep at work with all the necessary evidence in plain sight.
But, since the potential ramifications of employee substance abuse can result in dire consequence to any business, a “prevention is better than cure” approach should be strongly considered.