With alcohol awareness week running from the 11th-16th November this year, it gives us an opportunity to drive a conversation about managing alcohol misuse at work and signpost those who need help and support. With financial pressures mounting, there is always a risk of alcohol consumption increasing in certain individuals as a coping mechanism and employers need to offer a preventative and supportive approach to help staff get the help they need.
Alcohol misuse findings show that an estimated 15% of adults in the UK are classed as high-risk drinkers (based on amount or frequency of consumption), and 2% of people within this category would be considered to have a ‘possible dependence’. Looking to the workplace, an impact assessment paper on minimum pricing calculated lost productivity due to alcohol in the UK at about £7.3 billion per year.
The impact on the workforce
An employee’s drinking habits can affect companies, regardless of how large or small the organisation may be. In the workplace, the costs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse manifest themselves in many different ways. Absenteeism is estimated to be 4 to 8 times greater among alcoholics and alcohol abusers and accidents and on-the-job injuries are far more prevalent among alcoholics and alcohol abusers.
- Sleeping while working
- Not showing up for work
- Poor decision making
- Confrontational behaviour with supervisors and co-workers
- Unintentional injuries to oneself or others
All organisations can benefit from an agreed policy on alcohol misuse and this can be included as part of an overall health and safety policy. Developing clear and consistent policies and processes will enable staff to understand the expectations for behaviour and the consequences of not meeting those. Precise clarification is needed for employees to disclosure their own problems and also for colleagues who may have a concern about fellow workers. A policy should also include sources of support with clear instruction on how to access this.
A key part of implementing an alcohol policy is giving employees and line managers the knowledge and skills they need to handle any situations that may occur, this can be achieved through training. Training courses for employees can support companies in building a healthy and effective workplace culture free from alcohol use. Deploying a course can equip staff to learn a deeper understanding of the negative consequences of alcohol and also reinforce the policies in place.
Alcohol abuse is difficult for anyone. It is better for employers to find ways to support employees abusing than to discipline them. Conducting a meeting with the employee and taking a supportive approach may open the lines of communication up, whereby the employee feels understood and can admit to an issue with alcohol. From this point a plan can be discussed that may involve:
- Consultation with the company’s occupational health physician or the employee’s GP
- Referral to treatment centres
- Support groups
- A reasonable timeframe in which the issue can be reviewed
- Adequate time off to attend rehab if required – this may need to be structured around the individual as a response to recovery differs in each person and so to will their ability to return to work.
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees’ health, safety and welfare. Understanding the signs of alcohol misuse (or abuse) will help to manage health and safety risk in the workplace and offer support and a long term solution.
For further information on managing alcohol misuse at work or any other health & safety issues, please contact us here.