We do not tend to think of alcohol as being as destructive to the workplace as illicit drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine. Unfortunately, this may be to our detriment. A lack of understanding is allowing far too many alcohol-related issues to continue unabated, leading to lost production, higher healthcare costs, worker stress, and workplace accidents and injuries. It is time for Britain’s employers to start taking the problem of alcohol abuse and dependence seriously.
According to the Alcohol Concern charity, 34% of adult men and 28% of adult women exceed alcohol consumption recommendations at least once per week. Statistics from the NHS suggest that 9% of men and 4% of women exhibit signs of alcohol dependence. That means on average, there are likely seven alcoholics for every 100 workers in a given workplace.
The reality of alcohol abuse in modern society is such that no workplace is immune. Employers have a responsibility to both their workers and their customers to make sure alcohol abuse is not interfering with day-to-day operations. Otherwise, the consequences could be serious.
Alcohol in Your Workplace
Would you be surprised to learn that people who are gainfully employed are more likely to be excessive drinkers than those who do not work? According to the Institute for Alcohol Studies, that is just what the statistics show. Those engaged in steady employment are more likely to drink regularly during the week than those who are unemployed or otherwise economically inactive. The biggest consumers of alcohol during the week are those with office jobs.
Why is this? No one knows for sure, but the general line of thinking suggests that the prevalence of alcohol as a social drink leads people to consume it during the week as part of their workday activities. For example, having a drink during a business lunch is fairly common throughout Europe. The danger in this is that daily consumption of alcohol during working hours can easily fuel an existing alcohol abuse problem.
Above and beyond drinking as part of workday activities, alcohol in the workplace has several other important implications. A 2007 study from Norwich Union Healthcare revealed the following:
- 15% of respondents admitted reporting to work while drunk
- more than 30% admitted reporting to work with a hangover
- 10% admitted to experiencing hangovers at work at least once a week
- 77% admitted to alcohol consumption being a major factor in employee well-being and abstinence.
The statistics should be alarming to anyone who does not fully understand the seriousness of the problem of alcohol in the workplace. If you are a company owner or an employee manager, step back and consider the statistics in light of your own workplace. If 15% of your workers admitted coming to work while drunk, how many employees would that entail?
Predictors of Workplace Alcohol Abuse
So far, we have discussed the prevalence of alcohol issues at work and how these negatively affect the workplace environment. Now we need to shift our attention to some of the predictors of workplace alcohol abuse. Why is this important? Because some of these predictors are directly related to how employers relate to their workers.
Employers can reduce the risks of alcohol-related problems by paying attention to these predictors:
- persistently long working hours
- routine shift work
- work involving high physical demands
- work involving high risk of injury
- work involving high levels of stress
- fears of job insecurity
- stress related to job deadlines
- issues of poor supervision.
These predictors do not necessarily guarantee an individual will become a problem drinker. Rather, workers exposed to these predictors are more likely to develop drinking problems than others are. Employers can reduce alcohol-related problems by directly addressing these predictors and changing the workplace environment.
For example, if an employer knows a certain group of workers is regularly asked to work longer hours than normal, knowledge of the related predictor would indicate making changes to alleviate the extra hours. This may mean rescheduling work or hiring additional staff.
Employers should also be aware of how alcohol is being used in social situations among workers. If a group of workers is bonding over a drink at the end of every workday, the activity may make it more difficult for someone on the verge of developing alcohol dependence to recognise a problem exists.
Developing Workplace Strategies
In light of the serious nature of the alcohol problem, employers would do well to establish various strategies and policies to protect the workplace. The more proactive management can be, the easier it is to deal with problems before these become major disruptions. Every employer should have workplace alcohol policies in place.
The idea is not for employers to be routinely delving into the personal lives of employees. Rather, it is simply being aware of what goes on during the normal context of the working day for the purposes of being able to easily identify alcohol-related problems when they do arise. In this way, employers can help workers who find themselves struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence.
- Alcohol Concern – https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/help-and-advice/statistics-on-alcohol/
- Drink Aware – https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-dependence
- IAS – http://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/pdf/Factsheets/Alcohol%20in%20the%20workplace%20factsheet%20March%202014.pdf