Dry January for Businesses

What’s your approach to alcohol?

After the excess of Christmas many people consider cutting back on their alcohol consumption. Dry January, where you abstain from alcohol for a month, is a campaign to highlight some of the issues surrounding alcohol use and abuse, and at the same time raise s money for Alcohol Concern.

Could Alcohol be a problem for your Business?

We know that alcohol and the problems associated with drinking is a big issue for employers. Not only are the rates of binge drinking increasing but what was once mainly a problem for students and teenagers is now a major problem for older adults, i. e the working population. Over the last few years emergency admissions for drug and alcohol abuse has doubled for people in the 40-49 age group.

And if it affects the health of your employees it affects the health of your business. We know that alcohol increases the risk of coronary heart and liver disease, strokes, cancers and psychological problems like depression. Many people use alcohol to cope with work issues such as high-pressure jobs, monotony or  long hours. Some companies encourage a a drink-related social culture and the impact is not just on the individual but on the efficiency and productivity of a company.

How does alcohol affect your business

Most employers know the effects of heavy drinking on their business are wide ranging. The obvious effect is on attendance, with problems of absenteeism and lateness, but also in the areas of lower productivity (decreased quality and quantity of work),  poorer safety record, and also in creating an unpleasant working environment. Issues such as bad behaviour, rudeness and poor discipline, can all have an effect on general morale at work and the all important company image.

What can a business do to deal with alcohol abuse?

Businesses need a clear and accessible alcohol policy, not only to prevent alcohol misuse but also to support the people who need it. If you don’t think you have a problem just look at what the figures are saying – 15% of employees admit to being drunk at work.

• 17 million – the estimated number of sick days taken in the UK every year due to alcohol
• 200,000 – the estimated number of people who turn up to work every day with a hangover
• 1 in 10 – workers reporting having a hangover at work once a month
• 1 in 20 – workers reporting having a hangover at work once a week
• 15% – proportion of employees who admitted to being drunk at work
• 1 in 10 – the number of people aged 18-54 who say they regularly drink too much to cope with work-related stress

What does the law say?

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of all their employees. This means that if you allow an employee under the influence of alcohol to continue working, and as a consequence the employee or their colleagues or a member of the public are at risk then you could be prosecuted.

What can a business do about alcohol misuse?

As with many issues of this nature, the key here is education. Make sure information about alcohol, its effects, and recommended units, is easily accessible to your staff, as well as the rules and restrictions regarding alcohol in your business. Think about how you will provide this information to new starters as well as to existing employees.

Supervisors and other managers need to be clear about company rules and what to do if they suspect employees’ drinking is affecting their work. They also need to be aware of the implications of not tackling possible alcohol misuse, especially where safety is an issue. Your local alcohol advisory service may be able to help train managers to recognise if someone has an alcohol problem and the best way to handle the situation.

Create an alcohol policy

1. Find out if you have a problem.

• Ask employees what they know about the effects of alcohol on work, how they feel about drinking at or before work, and what they know about the current restrictions in place at your business. Review the information you have on absence, productivity, accidents and disciplinary procedures.

2. Make a list of who you need to consult.

• If you are thinking about creating or updating an alcohol policy, you might want to consult people within your business, both managers and employees – staff will more readily accept a change in company rules if their feel that they have been consulted. You could also find out what other businesses in your area have done, or seek advice from a health promotion unit or alcohol advisory service.

3. Decide how your company expects employees to limit their drinking

• Are you happy for your employees to drink alcohol during working hours? During lunch and other breaks? On special occasions? When entertaining clients?
• Do you expect the same from staff working in safety-sensitive jobs when it comes to not drinking alcohol as you do from staff working in non safety-sensitive jobs or management positions?
• How would you deal with an employee who is finding it difficult to control his or her drinking and whose work is suffering as a result?
• How would you deal with an employee who turns up for work drunk or flouts known restrictions on drinking alcohol?

4. Consider how you can make sure that an employee with an alcohol problem, this is identified and help  offered

• Many people with an alcohol problem are able to regain full control of their drinking and return to their previous work performance. However, it may be difficult for people to admit to themselves or others that they have a problem. The matter should be treated as a health problem, and you should encourage them to seek help from their GP or a specialist alcohol agency.

5. Decide at what point and in what circumstances you will treat an employee’s drinking as a matter for discipline rather than a health problem

• Employees with a drinking problem have the same rights to confidentiality and support as they would if they had any other medical or psychological condition – disciplinary action should be a last resort. A dismissal for problems related to alcohol could be seen by a court as unfair if no attempt has been made to help that employee. And remember, the cost of recruiting and training a replacement may be greater than the cost of allowing someone time off to obtain expert help.

Your policy should address the following areas:

• Aims – why have an alcohol policy?
• Responsibility – whose job is it to make sure the policy is implemented?
• The Rules – what is expected from employees?
• Special Circumstances – when do the rules not apply?
• Confidentiality – assure employees of their right to complete confidentiality
• Help – offer information on the support available to them
• Information – on alcohol and its effects on health and safety
• Disciplinary action – the circumstances in which disciplinary action will be taken

Support and resources do exist for business. Alcohol Concern can help develop a policy tailored to your business, enable you to start conversations in the workplace about alcohol, and implement a plan that will result in reduced staff absences and increased productivity.

Is Alcohol Screening a way forward?

Alcohol screening can either be done routinely, as spot-checks, or as part of the selection process for new applicants, but the advantages need to be weighed up against the disadvantages. There is of course the cost implication and the process of testing is quite onerous because of the need to ensure accuracy and validity of the test results. Whilst in some industries safety is the priority so testing will be seen as essential, in others businesses adopting such practices risks losing the trust their employees. So screening itself is not always the complete answer alcohol misuse

Where to start your alcohol awareness?

Dry January has been a success in previous years. It’s an opportunity for your organisation to raise money for a worthy cause, and also it to raise awareness amongst your employees of why they might want to stay a little drier for the rest of the year. You can even use it to kick-start a programme of Wellbeing Initiatives as work. Who knows where it will lead?