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Drugs in the workplace: what employers need to know

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It is estimated that between 5% and 35% of employees are dependent drinkers and approximately 7% to 20% have drug problems, according to a study on the prevalence of drug abuse within the workforce in South Africa. Therefore, it’s vital for employers to effectively handle drug abuse in the workplace. Use our tips for insight.

The extent of drug abuse in South Africa is alarming, with 1 in 10 people admitting to abusing drugs. It’s a problem that’s rife in the workplace too, particularly among farm workers, people who work in the transport and mining industry, medical workers, musicians and artists.

Drug abuse physically and mentally impairs you. Therefore, employees who struggle with substance abuse may be less productive and may injure themselves or others on the job.

Substance abusers at work may:

  • arrive late or be absent from work frequently
  • miss deadlines often or perform poorly at work
  • use more sick days under the pretence of feeling unwell
  • perceive their job negatively
  • struggle to get along with colleagues or supervisors

Employees with substance-abuse problems may also make careless errors, put others in danger or engage in criminal activities, such as theft, at work. Alcohol is the most abused substance in South Africa, particularly by senior staff, but cannabis and over-the-counter medication (OTC) are also abused.

OTC medication is available without prescription from pharmacies, supermarkets and other health and wellness stores. These medications include pain pills like anti-inflammatories and cold medication like cough syrup, and repeated use can result in addiction or dependence.

In recent years, there has also been an increase in the abuse of medications like Ritalin and Concerta, which are used specifically to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Since the medication increases alertness and concentration, it’s used by professionals, students and athletes to increase productivity.

Prescription medication should always be used as directed by a healthcare professional, since some medications have addictive ingredients. Talk to your doctor when you receive a new prescription and ask about side effects – especially addictive properties. Prescription drug misuse also occurs when prescription medication is shared among friends, family and co-workers. While sharing is usually done with the best intention, it can be very dangerous, so avoid it.

Signs of substance abuse at work

Most people who abuse drugs will try to hide their problem from their employers and co-workers and signs may vary depending on the kind of addiction. Common warning signs include:

  • irrational behaviour, such as blaming co-workers for their mistakes
  • moodiness and indifference for no apparent reason
  • an increase in the number of breaks during working hours
  • openly speaking about relationship or financial problems
  • sweaty hands, red nose, bloodshot eyes and lack of personal hygiene
  • frequently asking for salary advances or borrowing money from co-workers

How to approach employees about drug abuse

Employees with a problem of drug abuse may not admit to their addiction, as they may fear stigma or job loss. If you suspect a colleague or subordinate has a drug-addiction problem, it’s important to approach them. This will help them to get treatment as soon as possible and lower the impact their drug use could have on the company.

It’s best to do this privately and you should involve their direct supervisor, the head of the department and human resources. Drug-abuse policies and procedures differ from company to company, but some things you should consider when approaching them could include:

  • letting them know you’ve received a report that they’ve been abusing drugs
  • avoiding accusing or judgmental language, as drug addiction is often related to mental health issues
  • explaining the company’s drug abuse policy and ensuring that you are sharing information as per the South African laws on drug abuse
  • offering resources or treatment options if available

Where to find help if you or someone you know has a drug problem

For more advice related to substance addiction, read these helpful articles:

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.


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Enough is enough: How men can join the fight against GBV

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South African women have been tirelessly rallying for an end to gender-based violence. Now it’s time for men to take a stand, find out why gender-based violence is so prevalent in SA and learn what they can do to really make a difference. Read on to join the fight…

Gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide are a widespread problem in South Africa, with stats published in the Crimes Against Women in South Africa report showing that femicide in South Africa is 5 times higher than the global average.

According to SaferSpaces, between 25% and 40% of South African women have experienced sexual or physical intimate partner violence, while just under 50% have experienced emotional or economic abuse by their partners in their lifetime.

Why do men need to join the fight?

‘We want to stop gender-based violence before it happens, and that requires tackling toxic masculinity and notions of patriarchy,’ said Bafana Khumalo, co-founder of Sonke Gender Justice, in an interview with the Daily Maverick.

Men play a key role in ending GBV, as they have influence over male social norms within their circles.

To make a real change, they need to speak to their friends, sons, fathers and brothers to help them unlearn the social norms that drive GBV.

Why is GBV so entrenched in South African communities?

‘There is a desperate absence of positive male figures in South African communities, and boys as young as 10 years old are recruited by gangs, perpetuating the cycle of violence,’ says Corna Olivier, a registered psychological counsellor. She adds that there is an overwhelming focus on intervention programmes for women and girls, but virtually none for males.

Some reasons why the cycle of GBV continues in SA include:

  • A widespread belief among South African men that they are entitled to women and are more powerful than women
  • Men associating masculinity with controlling women
  • Violence against women being considered acceptable in some settings and cultures in South Africa, making it difficult for GBV to be addressed effectively
  • Gender stereotypes, including linking masculinity with ‘macho’ and violent behaviour and femininity with victimhood and submission
  • Being exposed to violence at home during childhood, experiencing abuse or witnessing violence for long periods

What can men do to make a difference?

‘Women are the collateral damage in the battle raging within our boys and men. Anger is a secondary emotion, aggression the expression thereof. The primary emotion is fear. Men need to help men heal,’ says Corna. Men can do the following to help end the cycle:

  • Be a dependable role model. The best way to teach is by example. Take responsibility at home, in your workplace and in your social circles, and be a role model for other males, showing them that men need to treat women respectfully and as equals. Raise your male children to treat women with respect, dignity and kindness, and openly discuss the issue of consent – ‘no’ means ‘no’.
  • Speak up and take action. Help your colleagues, friends and family members to unlearn the attitude that ‘boys will be boys’. Calling out other men on unacceptable behaviour, such as catcalling, harassment and inappropriate comments, is an important step. Report them for any GBV-related acts and support women when they ask for help.
  • Take responsibility for your mental health. If you suspect you are struggling with a mental health condition such as depression, anger or difficulty exercising self-control, see a mental health expert or ask your doctor to refer you to one.

For more insight into gender-based violence, read this helpful article:

For confidential assistance, contact Life EHS; SMS your name to 31581 and the Care Centre will call you back.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.


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