Many employers are recognising the importance of promoting a healthier relationship with alcohol by raising alcohol awareness in the workplace. As part of their employees’ wellbeing, they understand it’s just as valuable to promote alcohol awareness, as promoting a healthy diet and exercise.
Nearly 1 in 4 UK adults still consistently drink above NHS lower-risk guidelines 1, despite the slowing down of the boozy, binge-fuelled ‘90s and 00’s. As well as affecting their health, this has a detrimental impact on the UK economy, with 17 million working days lost each year due to alcohol-related illness, costing employers an estimated £1.7bn per year 2.
There is a clear need to promote alcohol awareness among employees to ensure moderation and wellbeing. Many employees may choose to unwind with a glass or more after work, either in the pub, bar or at home, especially as alcohol consumption is so embedded in our culture. In fact, a recent Aviva survey 3 revealed that 1 in 3 UK workers turn to alcohol to help switch off from work at a weekend. Employers can play their part to help promote moderate alcohol consumption outside of work and where needed to provide the relevant support for employees who are concerned about their own drinking, or even concerned about others.
Many organisations allow and even encourage alcohol consumption in the process of doing or gaining business, through client entertainment, after-work events or lunch meetings for instance. Drinking in this context, without clear policies and education about moderation and guidelines, means employers can easily find they are exposed to risk if things go wrong.
Here are five top reasons why every employer should be supporting alcohol awareness:
- Reduces absenteeism - 17 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol-related illness, costing employers an estimated £1.7bn per year 2. Public Health England reports that 167,000 working years are lost in the UK to alcohol misuse per year - more than the 10 most common cancers combined 1. Alcohol is also linked to 7 types of cancer 4, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. In fact, it's associated with over 60 illnesses 5.
- Reduces presenteeism. Alcohol-related presenteeism (people coming to work and underperforming due to ill health) might be costing more than absenteeism 6. In a survey 7 by the IAS (Institute of Alcohol Studies), 42% of employees had been to work hungover or intoxicated, and 9% had done so in the past six months. On average, these workers rated their performance at work to be 39% less effective than usual. Work problems resulting from hangovers or being drunk at work include difficulty concentrating, reduced productivity, tiredness and mistakes.
- Empowers your line managers. Managers can lack the skills and confidence to deal with suspected alcohol issues from employees. This means that problems are often left until things get out of hand, causing more difficulties (and cost) for you and your employees. Training managers to spot the signs of an alcohol problem early on, as well as clarifying your alcohol policy, helps upskill managers to be more proactive about tackling emerging problems before disciplinary action is needed.
- Allows your employees to make healthy lifestyle choices. Almost 1 in 4 UK adults drink at either increasing or high-risk levels, however 70% are unaware of how much they drink 1. Providing accurate information about unit guidelines and how drinking might be affecting their health, will enable your employees to make informed decisions about their drinking.
- Reduces the risk of mental health problems. Many people drink to reduce stress – however this can then lead to a cycle of depression, more drinking and further stress. Even though alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on our mood, in the long term it's linked to a range of issues from memory loss and depression to suicide. It's important that if people feel stressed, they don’t use alcohol as the solution.
Don is the Founder and Director of the Alcohol Health Network - a social enterprise specialising in promoting alcohol awareness in the workplace. They provide expert resources for employers who wish to promote alcohol awareness as well as training, online learning and policy advice.