Re-imagining the workplace: Alcohol is both a social and workplace issue

We feel good about being light about alcohol yet sending the message home that there is need for responsible partaking because abuse can indeed degenerate into serious personal and social problems.


I have expressed my opinion regarding alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace and contextualized the pertinence of talking openly about this issue especially in the workplace where the reason for meeting is to work productively and safely for the good of the worker and the employer. We do not want to be preachy around this controversial subject lest we lose audiences who might begin to view us as being rigid and touching on an issue that is only social and has nothing to do with work and the workplace. This is easy to get away with considering that we are all “social” drinkers when asked about our relationship with this most loved liquid. It is important that we loosen up and handle this subject in a manner that is both informative and maybe entertaining. Some of the darkest stories in the world have been broadcasted through the medium of art leading to such terms as edutainment, education entertainment (EE) and others. This helps distance the difficult subject and lead to real behavioural change.

We feel good about being light about alcohol yet sending the message home that there is need for responsible partaking because abuse can indeed degenerate into serious personal and social problems. The Christian library, the Bible has verses that free us to approach the subject with that attitude of non-condemnation but with caution. In the book of Psalms 104:14-15 has this to say, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And WINE (capital letters mine) that maketh glad the heart of man…So after all it does make glad the heart off man. There are, however, strict rules around the subject of alcohol in most Christian circles leading to many just deciding to be teetotallers to avoid controversy and of course, as the faith would have it, to avoid being denied the ticket to paradise, the ultimate destination for the believer.

The risk with strict rules around the subject of behaviour and behavioural change is the human habit of resorting to illicitness when rules are tough, or something is denied or banned. The top ten African consuming countries has Libya, one of the three African countries that banned alcohol, on number eight on the 2021 statistics. This is a case of good intentions coming with unintended consequences. Alcohol falls under contraband goods in Libya yet it’s consumed in large quantities and comes very expensive. This is the problem with taking the agency away from human beings and using the law to halt behaviour when more scientific and effective methods that are well researched are available. The law around such subjects is a dangerous shortcut that becomes a time bomb in many areas. Sadly, human beings will disregard science and scientific methods and cling to laws and strict methods that thrive on fear.

Zimbabwe sits on number seven of the top ten alcohol consuming countries in Africa with an average of 27.2 litres of alcohol consumed per year with 35.2% in women and 57. 7% in man. 40% of the current drinkers are reported to have at least one binge drinking weekly. With lockdown which held the world indoors, Zimbabweans seem to have more than increased their drinking and binge drinking habits. (Displore, You tube Channel). We are only 9.4 litres less than Tunisia which sits on number one. This is a disturbing statistic considering the many personal, social and workplace challenges that alcohol and substance abuse can have on people.

All these important social and economic institutions of family, school, church, the workplace and many others are badly affected by alcohol abuse and if this problem is not nipped in the bud we risk as a country, sinking deep into the abyss of a drunken society whose productivity has gone down. Zimbabwe is battling with difficult economic ills and there is need for anything that could fuel unproductive behaviour to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves. Anyone in behavioural change knows that fear is not the way to go when it comes to sustainable change of behaviour. We see this a lot when preacher men and women want to ambush non-believers at funeral wakes preaching the gospel of heaven using the dead person as an example of what is going to happen to everyone. Most non-believers do get drunk with fear on such occasions and come forward to receive Christ, much to the excitement of the preacher but usually the fear is short lived, and the drinking non-believer recovers and runs back to the beer and sits with his or her comrades with a sigh of relief, happy to have escaped from the claws of the preacher man. This is not a laughing matter at all because these fear-based methods are not working but seem to never die.

The South African mbaqanga genre group called The Soul Brothers tell the story of a drunkard who disconnects from his family every time he gets paid. The title of their track is isigilamkhuba a Zulu word for a mischief maker. He loses it totally when he gets paid and goes binge drinking with his friends. The wife exclaims, mina ngikhathele isigila mkhuma, njalo ngolwesihlanu akabuyi uma eholile (I am tired of this mischief maker who doesn’t come back home on Fridays when he gets paid). He looks quiet and organised on the video but loses it the moment he takes a sip of alcohol. It is a bizarre tale of a drunken woman’s troubles from a man whose relationship with alcohol has gone way beyond normal. She waits for him anxiously only to see him come home staggering with two live chickens to appease her. He doesn’t seem to understand why the wife finds it wrong that he behaves the way he does, after all, he always brings two live chickens. It doesn’t matter that his kids look terrified by their drunken dad who glees with gladness and even wants a kiss from his beautiful wife.

This is disastrous in many ways. The good that people get from a normal family is not there in this scenario and the discord is likely to overlap to the workplace and affect productivity. Role players as we are as humans, I don’t think it’s possible for one individual to thrive in one institution and fail in another. It is highly unlikely that such drinking and family discord would not affect this man’s work. Even his physical state when he goes back after that binge drinking and fight with his wife is topsy turvy. When the family as an institution is broken, many other benefitting institutions like the workplace suffer.

Covid-19, coupled with an already failing economy has put Zimbabweans on a difficult footing. Difficult times affecting happiness are bound to make most people seek solace from alcohol and alcohol is known to be a harsh darling because if you spend too much time with her, you get hooked and a lot is affected, including productivity in the workplace. This is a trumpet call for the workplace to begin to make alcohol and substance abuse a big subject in the workplace because if this is not done, by the time things get better, if they will in our life time, we will have a lot of rehabilitation work to do when our bodies are too tired and need more alcohol and other substances. Prevention is better than cure.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a South African organization as a Learning & Development Specialist, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for a number of blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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