Working at home drives us to drink
Durban - Working from home could lead to a rise in alcohol and drug abuse.
That is the warning from Sanca Durban director Walter Petersen who has highlighted that the home is a very different environment from the office. While working from home has been dubbed “the new normal”, he described it as “abnormal”.
“Working from home has its own stresses, but it is a more relaxed environment and your attitude is different to when you are in an office structure.
“You are not at your workstation and if, for example, that report is due at 3pm, why not have a beer before getting down to it?” he said.
He added that this type of behaviour, whether alcohol or drugs, could see an increase during work hours, which would impact on employees’ productivity and a company’s bottom line.
He said employees had to exercise discipline and stick to the routine of their normal working hours.
Petersen added that people were missing their work colleagues.
“Human nature is such that we want to interact with people and not machines. People are missing the interaction at work, which allows for better relationships and work flow. What we are dealing with is not normal,” he said, highlighting that virtual meetings such as those via Zoom, do not allow for the same level of interaction.
Anti-Drug Forum SA director Sam Pillay said while many people are enjoying the freedom and reduced travel of the “work from home” structure, “the temptation to have a pint while working is there”. As is having a glass of wine or two between Zoom meetings.
“The risk is especially for those who are already regular drinkers, who come home and have a drink after the day. They are not alcoholics, but they may be tempted to have a drink during the day.
“Whether it’s a drink or drugs such as dagga, the fridge or the packet is right there. You are not driving and you can indulge in the safety of your home. You are in a safe scenario and there are no immediate consequences.
“The worrying thing is the frequency and quantity can increase.
“Employers are going to have to monitor their employees and if there is any cause for concern, need to quickly intervene and get help for the employee. If you can nip it in the bud, you can avoid a full blown addiction,” said Pillay.
Dr Duncan Laurenson, a general medical practitioner and substance use disorder specialist, manages the detoxification programme at Akeso Stepping Stones in Cape Town. He said while it is too early in terms of detailed research of the impacts of the pandemic, anecdotally from the four clinics where he works, he said: “We are seeing people relapsing due to lockdown who would not have relapsed and some being pushed into addiction due to lockdown.”
He said factors such as isolation and financial worry causing anxiety and stress could trigger an adrenaline response resulting in a person turning to a substance, such as alcohol for relief.
“Working from home also sees a lack of support, such as speaking to other people, which results in a feeling of isolation. There are a multitude of psychological, social and physical factors and a lot of it relates to hopelessness as people are not sure what the future holds,” said Laurenson.
Aadil Patel, national head of the Employment Law Practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, said whether you are working at home or in the office, the same labour laws and policies apply during working hours.
Patel said being drunk at work constitutes misconduct which can result in dismissal, but that employers must have an alcohol (and drug) policy in place which is communicated to all employees.
“Management is responsible for putting policies in place, not just for consumption on the premises. Policies can extend to behaviour off company premises, during working hours in the event that it impacts the employee’s ability to do their job,” said Patel, adding that this should not be limited to alcohol, but any substance, such as cannabis, which could affect the employee.
He highlighted that should it be a case of an employee having a dependency problem, the employer has an obligation to assist the employee to get treatment. “Alcoholism is an illness, therefore the distinction must be made between incapacity as a result of alcoholism or simple misconduct.”
Venolan Naidoo, vice-president on the national committee of the South African Society for Labour Law, agreed with Patel, saying regardless of working from the home or at the workplace, the same company rules apply.
He said proving misconduct from substance abuse while the employee was working from home was obviously more difficult than if the employee was on site, but that the employee’s performance would be impacted.
The Independent on Saturday