Alcohol and the workplace

How many people have gone into work under par after a heavy night on the booze?  I know I have.  The dry mouth, the headache, the irritability with colleagues who just want to get the job done.  I’ve popped chewing gum and mints constantly, drank endless cups of coffee just hoping no one noticed and dragging myself through the day.  And of course, everyone does know it’s a hangover.  Some are inwardly annoyed, and others find it perfectly acceptable.  I mean, it’s Monday so everyone drank on the weekend, right?  It could be a Friday, because Thursday is the new Friday and time for drink.  Or what about a Thursday, Wednesday is in the middle of the week, hump day and everyone deserves a drink or two don’t they?  As an employer, hangovers in work are very pricey.  In fact, 89,000 people are turning up to work hungover or under the influence of alcohol every day.  They cost the UK £1.4bn a year through either absence or low productivity1.  Think about it.  Most people would never take a Monday off work as it’s obvious.  But a Monday and a Tuesday, well that will convince the employer that they are ill, right?  So, what is your company absence record like?  Which days do you have the most absences?  Have you analysed it?  What are you doing about it?  How can you begin to approach it?

The first thing you need to do as an employer is understand the severity of the issue.  So, what exactly is a hangover?  Heavy drinking leads to an increase in alcohol concentration in the bloodstream.  The subsequent processing of this alcohol by the liver produces an extremely toxic substance called acetaldehyde.  This can lead to headaches, shakes, sickness, nausea, problems concentrating, fatigue and irritability.  Not only does this pose a practical problem, particularly in manual jobs but it can affect fitness for work, work attendance, performance and relationships with colleagues (who may be uncomfortable with dealing with it).  I’m not talking here about heavy long-term consumption.  This is your regular UK drinker.  Your regular UK worker.  And some jobs are at a higher risk in the UK.  Construction workers, manufacturers, financial services and other well-paid professional roles have statistics showing about a third of staff admit heavy drinking2.  To put this into context, it amounts on average to one to two people in ten turning up to work once or twice a week with a hangover.  If those people are earning minimum UK wage on a 37-hour week, they are costing you in the region of £6800 each, per year.  How big is your workforce?  Work out how much your hungover workforce is costing you in absence or productivity.

The ‘at-risk’ groups are:

  • Male workers;
  • Young workers <29 years;
  • Tradespersons/Manual workers;
  • Individuals employed in hospitality, retail, financial services and other well-paid professional roles.

It has been estimated that up to 17 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of alcohol-related sickness3.

As an employer, be aware that the availability of alcohol and your workplace culture can impact individual alcohol use and drinking patterns.  Working conditions, workplace customs (Friday drinking, lunchtime drinking, work parties) and environments increase the risk of alcohol consumption.

The ‘at-risk’ factors include:

  • Workers in isolation.  People working away from family and friends are more likely to drink alcohol as a result of boredom;
  • Workers undertaking long hours or shift workers;
  • Workers in uncomfortable or hazardous working environments;
  • Workers who lack direct supervision;
  • Workers under stress (often because they feel they are not adequately skilled or trained) or those with low job satisfaction;
  • Workers who do not form good relationships with colleagues or who are suffering from workplace bullying;
  • Workers with poor mental health (1 in 4 UK individuals suffer from a mental health problem every year in the UK)
  • Workers undergoing organisational changes or restructures 4.

So why is this your problem?

  1. Alcohol can impact the safety of workers who are hungover or under the influence of alcohol, and the safety of those around them.  This is particularly of concern if the occupation involves using heavy machinery or driving vehicles. 
  2. Alcohol can affect workplace relationships with co-workers and customers.  A hangover or withdrawals from alcohol can impact behaviour and mood.  If someone is still drunk, they might act in an unprofessional manner.  If someone has to cover someone who is absent due to a hangover (and they will know this), it can impact colleague relationships and resentment can develop.
  3. Alcohol can impact the workplace economy.  This is of particular concern when long-term alcohol-related concerns haven’t been adequately addressed.  There may be long-term sickness, loss of skills, loss of employees, and of course, the costs involved with new training or replacing staff.
  4. Alcohol use, even what you may consider normal consumption, can impact productivity.  This may arise from short-term absence, lower quality or quantity of work, poor decision making, disruption to operations, the need for cover for workers absent due to alcohol.

What are your responsibilities?

As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your employees’ health, safety and welfare5.  This includes responding to alcohol use and related harm in the workplace.  You must have an effective policy in place that deals with alcohol-related problems and you must support your employees.

As an employee, they must take reasonable care of their own safety and health in the workplace and not endanger the health and safety of their co-workers, but do they know this?

As an employer, you should look out for unexplained or frequent absences, changes in behaviour, unexplained dips in productivity, accidents or near-misses and/or performance or conduct issues as early indicators that there may be a problem.

What can you do?

  1. Develop safe workplace cultures to prevent and manage alcohol-related issues in the workplace and involve everyone.  Many employees do not have adequate training around the issue and managers aren’t comfortable dealing with it. 
  2. Develop and implement an effective Work Alcohol Policy and Procedure.
  3. Promote and encourage workplace health.
  4. Educate and train your employees – this is perhaps the best action you can take.  Not only is it proactive and protects the wellbeing of your workforce but prevention is better than cure, and will save you more money in the long run.
  5. Provide access to support, treatment and counselling services.
  6. Test for alcohol – this is not a legal requirement, but it may be something you want to implement if alcohol use could harm employees (driving jobs/manual jobs/medical jobs, etc.). 

What can we do to help?

We can make education fun and engaging for your workforce surrounding alcohol, wellbeing and mental health.  We can raise morale and teamwork by involving everyone in our 30-day experiment.  Just 30 days off the booze can impact someone for six months to a year and ensure they drink more mindfully.  We can help you to develop an effective policy and procedure.  We can save you thousands of pounds.  Interested?  Contact us through our website https://soberexperiment.co.uk/presentations-in-the-workplace/.

References

1Institute of Alcohol Studies.  (2019).  Hangovers cost the UK up to £1.4bn a year.    

2Croner, I.  (2016).  Britain’s binge drinking culture at work. 

3Institue of Alcohol Studies.  (2017).  Alcohol and the working population.

4Alcohol Think Again.  (2019).  Facts about Alcohol and Workplace Issues.

5Health and Safety Executive.  (2019).  Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work.

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