A successful ‘Dry January’ should help give employers the momentum they need to combat alcohol problems in the workplace.
Recent statistics suggest that Britain is making progress in its battle against the booze. According to a YouGov poll, a record 4.2 million people intended to give up alcohol during this January, and further evidence shows that at least moderation is becoming more common during the rest of the year.
An NHS Digital report published this month found a significant reduction in the numbers exceeding the government’s recommended weekly limits. In 2011 the figures stood at 34% for men and 18% for women but by 2017 it had fallen to 28% for men and to 14% for women.
All this should be music to the ears of employers, for which the costs of heavy drinking can play havoc with the bottom line. Indeed, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, the cost to UK businesses of alcohol abuse via lost productivity, absenteeism and accidents is £7.3 billion a year.
Furthermore, such figures don’t even reflect issues such as when heavy drinking has caused harassment, misconduct, administrative errors, shoddy customer service and problems with relationships between employees.
Even a relatively junior worker who is slightly tipsy or suffering from a severe hangover could, for example, lose an important client or create a major financial loss by sending an email to the wrong person or ordering the wrong equipment.
So, employers should make it a high priority to ensure that their workforces enjoy the healthiest possible relationship with alcohol.
One positive step that can be taken is to encourage employees who intend to undergo a dry spell to share their challenge with their colleagues. This will mean they have valuable support and – due to fear of losing face – makes it less likely they will back out. They should also help them realise that slipping up should be no barrier to carrying on.
Providing a little basic education on how alcohol can affect muscle function, stamina and the ability to concentrate can also work wonders.
For example, anyone intent on going on a bender should do so on a Friday rather than Saturday night as it typically takes 48 hours for someone’s body tissue to recover to enable them to perform to their optimum.
Similarly, many people aware of the real impact of lunchtime drinking probably wouldn’t do it. Someone who drinks two pints of ordinary strength beer or half a bottle of wine will still have alcohol in their bloodstream three hours later as the body is only able to rid itself of half a pint of beer – or its equivalent – every hour in the case of men or every hour and a half in the case of women.
Employers may also wish to consider offering alcohol-free wine and beer in their canteens. Some of the new wine substitutes taste so like the real thing that they have won international competitions in a blind test against wines containing alcohol!
Any business with at least a handful of staff should also have a written alcohol policy that spells out exactly what employees are allowed to drink in the workplace and during working hours. Additionally, it should make it clear that anyone who volunteers a drink problem will receive the company’s full support in overcoming it.
The approach can reduce misunderstandings and provide legal protection in the event of a serious alcohol related accident – as the court is likely to enquire what your alcohol policy is.
The key is to catch drink problems before they become too serious, and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and a range of other wellness tools and assessments that Chase de Vere an advise you on can play a valuable role here.
However, this doesn’t always happen, so line managers should be trained to spot the signs of serious problem drinking and to refer relevant individuals to occupational health.
Remember that no-one sets out to become a drunkard. It happens because something has gone wrong in their life. So, they should be treated in the same way as if they have any other form of debilitating illness.