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 a normal part of social culture, it’s inevitable that many employees will unwind with a glass or more after work, either in the pub, bar or at home – the question is how to promote awareness among employees to ensure moderation and wellbeing. At the same time, how can employers ensure that those who may be concerned about their own drinking, or others, know where to get support?
Even if employees are only drinking on evenings and weekends when they are off-duty, excessive drinking has a knock on effect on physical and mental health – and promoting alcohol awareness in the workplace is known to shift cultures, promote wellbeing and reduce accidents at work.
We’ve come up with ten reasons why every employer should be promoting 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. It’s important that if people feel stressed, they don’t use alcohol as the solution.
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 and have different conversations about alcohol.
7. Reduce staff turnover
In most cases, alcohol problems creep up on people. Regular drinking becomes heavy drinking and the problems start to mount up. Offering all employees the chance to check confidentially how much they are drinking and what that means for their health means employees can spot problems early and reach out for support, 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.
9. Create a healthy workplace culture
Many organisations include alcohol in the process of doing or gaining business, through client entertainment, after-work events or lunch meetings for instance. Drinking in this context may have never provided any problems in the past, but without clear policies and education about moderation, employers can easily find they are exposed to risk.
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.
To see how much your drinking is affecting your health, go to Drink Checker – a free resource for employees and line managers.
Alcohol Health Network is a social enterprise specialising in promoting alcohol awareness in the workplace. We provide free resources for employers who wish to promote alcohol awareness as well as training, online learning and policy advice.
Please get in touch if you’d like more information.
- National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (June 2010), ‘Business case: Alcohol-use disorders: preventing harmful drinking’, p. 13
- Well-being—absenteeism, presenteeism, costs and challenges, Cary Cooper, Philip Dewe. Occup Med (Lond) (2008) 58 (8): 522-524. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqn124
- Aviva (May 2008), ‘UK employees admit that regular drinking affects their jobs’