A growing number of employers are recognising the benefit of raising alcohol awareness in the workplace – not because they suspect employees are drinking on the job, but because they believe it is just as valuable to promote a healthier relationship with alcohol as it is to promote a healthy diet and exercise.
In spite of a slowing down of the boozy, binge-fuelled ‘90s and 00’s, 1 in 4 UK workers still consistently drink above NHS lower-risk guidelines, affecting their health and the UK economy, which currently loses £7.3bn per year to alcohol misuse.
As long as alcohol remains as affordable as it is, it’s inevitable that many employees will unwind with a glass or more after work – the question is how to ensure consumption remains relatively harmless, rather than harmful.
Alcohol Health Network is calling on all employers to consider how they can promote alcohol awareness amongst their staff and improve employees’ alcohol related health.
10 Reasons every employer should raise Alcohol Awareness:
1. Informed employees can make healthy lifestyle choices for themselves. 1 in 4 UK workers drink above NHS guidelines, however 70% are unaware of how much they drink. Giving people information, making sure they know the unit guidelines and how drinking might be affecting their health, will enable your employees to make informed decisions about their drinking.
2. Reduce mental health problems – many people drink to reduce stress – however this can then lead to a cycle of stress, drinking and depression. While alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on our mood, in the long term it’s linked to a range of issues from depression and memory loss to suicide.
3. Reduce absenteeism – 17 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol-related illness, costing employers an estimated £1.7bn per year1. Public Health England reports that 167,000 working years are lost in the UK to alcohol misuse per year 2 – more than the 10 most common cancers combined. Alcohol is also linked to 7 types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. In fact it’s associated with over 60 illnesses.
4. Reduce presenteeism. Alcohol related presenteeism (people coming to work and underperforming due to ill health) might be costing more than absenteeism 3. In a survey by Norwich Union 4, a third of employees admitted to having been to work with a hangover, 15% reported having been drunk at work, 1 in 10 reported hangovers at work once a month and 1 in 20 once a week. Work problems resulting from hangovers or being drunk at work included difficulty concentrating, reduced productivity, tiredness and mistakes.
5. Reduce accidents. The Institute of Alcohol Studies reports that up to 40% of workplace accidents involve alcohol 5.
6. Improve employee engagement and moral – In workplaces we’ve supported – where management engaged with employees about the type of alcohol awareness messages we promoted – employees fed back that they felt engaged and empowered to change the drinking culture.
7. Reduce staff turnover. Offering all employees the chance to self assess their drinking levels and letting them know that support is available for anyone who wants it, enables an employee who’s drinking at harmful levels to cut down or stop, reducing the likelihood of disciplinary action. The findings from a national study by Oxford Economics in 2014 found that, on average, each member of staff that leaves costs an employer £30,614 to replace.
8. Empower your line managers. Managers often lack the skills and confidence to deal with a suspected alcohol issue. This means that problems are often left to fester, until things get out of hand, causing more difficulties (and cost) for HR. Training managers to use their listening skills, spot the signs of an alcohol problem early and clarifying your alcohol policy helps skill up managers to be more proactive about tackling emerging problems head on.
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9. Create a healthy workplace culture. Some employees may use after-work drinking as a way of socialising or bonding. Others may drink alcohol in the process of doing business, through client entertainment or lunch meetings for instance. These factors need to be acknowledged if alcohol use is affecting productivity or client/customer relations. Drinking in this context may actually normalise and help cover up potential alcohol problems.
10. Improve the diversity of your workforce – not everyone likes to drink, and a heavy drinking culture in some organisations can deter non- or low drinkers from applying to join your workforce.
1. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (June 2010), ‘Business case: Alcohol-use disorders: preventing harmful drinking’, p. 13
2. GOV UK Alcohol Public Health Burden Evidence Review
4. Aviva (May 2008), ‘UK employees admit that regular drinking affects their jobs’
5. IAS Alcohol in the Workplace Factsheet March 2014
© Alcohol Health Network
About the Author
Don Shenker is the Director and Founder of the Alcohol Health Network, which he set up in 2012, recognising that evidence-based practice in primary health care could be used to benefit both workforce and public health. With over 20 years of experience in the alcohol harm reduction sector, Don is recognised as one of the foremost policy experts on alcohol issues in the UK. Alcohol Health Network is a social enterprise that provides free resources for employers who wish to promote alcohol awareness as well as training, online learning and policy advice. We’ve worked with some of the biggest names in banking, finance, construction and transport. Please get in touch if you’d like more information.