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ALCOHOL AWARENESS WEEK 2024

How employers can prevent and effectively manage alcohol misuse in the workplace.

Woman working from home and drinking wine


ABOUT Alcohol AWARENESS WEEK 2024


Alcohol Awareness Week run by Alcohol Change UK takes place from 1-7 July and this year the theme is 'Understanding alcohol harm'. The harm caused by alcohol misuse affects millions of people every year in the form of physical and mental health problems, financial difficulties, and relationship breakdowns. Alcohol misuse has also huge social and economics costs with the significant pressure that is placed on the NHS, the emergency services, police, as well as workplaces.


THE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL


Alcohol affects the body in a number of ways and can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Moreover, in the long term, hazardous levels of alcohol consumption can lead to various social problems including difficult family relationships, issues at work, financial problems, and unemployment.


mental health

There are close links between alcohol and mental health, and our drinking habits can affect our wellbeing. Some people may drink to mask or reduce symptoms of mental-ill health but this can lead to dependency and cause further mental health problems. Alcohol affects the central nervous system and is strongly associated with anxiety and depression.




PHYSICAL health

Excessive and long-term alcohol consumption can affect your body in numerous ways. It can increase your risk of developing vascular dementia and having a heart attack or stroke. Alcohol can also cause gastritis and stomach ulcers, in addition, it can lead to fatty liver and inflammation or scarring of the liver.


Find out more: Alcohol and your body



relationships

Drinking regularly or heavily can damage relationships with our loved ones and lead to breakups, estranged marriages or lost friendships. It can alter both our mood, inhibition and behaviour affecting the way we interact with those around us. Alcohol can cause arguments, create tension, and give us the sense of being disconnected from the others.






social and economic impact

The social and economic burden of alcohol is substantial and it's related both to tangible, direct costs such as costs to the NHS, criminal justice and welfare systems, and indirect costs including the costs of lost productivity due to absenteeism, unemployment, or lost working years due to premature pension or death.



"Lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion annually, and an estimated 167,000 working years are lost to alcohol every year."



MANAGING ALCOHOL MISUSE in the workplace



Many people who occasionally drink alcohol outside of work do not, in any way perform any worse, or take more time off sick as a result. However, if a person’s health suffers due to excessive drinking, or they are trying to work while under the influence of alcohol then it can become a workplace issue.


The effects of alcohol misuse have harmful implications on the health and the behaviour of the staff. An employee might not only attend work hungover or still under the influence from the night before, but also drink alcohol before work or in some extreme cases even during the work day. Alcohol misuse can cause several workplace problems such as sickness absence, presenteeism and poor performance, conduct issues, as well as accidents or near-misses.


Man in a factory drinking alcohol at work

There’s no-one-size-fits-all approach, but putting in place a few key measures can make a difference to your workplace’s productivity and safety, as well as the wellbeing of your staff.


Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work report from CIPD provides an overview of current employer practice in preventing and managing drug and alcohol misuse at work. The report also offers recommendations for HR and line managers on how to provide support for employees.


Business in the Community’s (BITC) Drugs, alcohol and tobacco: a toolkit for employers can provide you with some further information on how to support employees to make healthier choices concerning alcohol. The toolkit also includes an adaptable framework for alcohol policy and case studies from a range of organisations.



Provide awareness-raising activities

 

As an employer, you are in a strong position to engage with your staff about alcohol awareness and offer proactive educational sessions and training. By providing evidence-based information and resources about alcohol and its effects, you can empower employees to make more informed decisions regarding their alcohol consumption and encourage responsible drinking practices to reduce alcohol-related harm. Share relevant resources like booklets, articles, videos and podcasts via Intranet, or book our Alcohol Awareness Webinar to help your staff understand health risks associated with alcohol and encourage responsible drinking habits to minimize harm.


Here are some examples of the resources that you could use:



Health at work: Alcohol Awareness toolkit from British Heart Foundation can also give you some ideas, tools and advice to organise successful wellbeing initiatives to alcohol awareness in your workplace.



HAVE A CLEAR ALCOHOL POLICY IN PLACE

It's crucial that your workplace has a clear alcohol policy in place to prevent and effectively manage alcohol misuse at work. A workplace alcohol policy should be tailored to reflect the individual needs and circumstances of a workplace. It should outline processes for dealing with any cases when someone is believed to be under the influence of alcohol while at work. If your business allows alcohol consumption in certain situations, for example for client hospitality, you should set out definite boundaries and provide clarification for your staff on how much is allowed while working.


Also, the policy should outline under what circumstances disciplinary action may be taken. This might include where help is refused by an employee, when performance is consistently poor due to alcohol abuse, or where an employee comes to work under the influence of alcohol and puts others at risk of harm.


Whilst the policy should cover disciplinary action, it should prioritise genuine support for employees and their wellbeing. There should be a strong focus on a supportive approach to create an environment where people feel confident and unafraid to seek help. The policy should outline how staff can get assistance both within the organisation and, if necessary, outside. It should also make it clear whether the absence for treatment and rehabilitation will be regarded as normal sickness absence.


The policy should be communicated effectively to all employees and it's paramount that line managers understand the policy fully and are properly trained to deal with staff that misuse alcohol. They should be able to spot the signs that someone may be struggling with alcohol addiction, how to have a conversation about the issue in an empathetic and confidential way, and where they can signpost an individual to get help.



CHANGE workplace drinking culture 

Some workplaces may unknowingly encourage drinking, whether through informal socialising or workplace events where alcohol is often made available to employees for free.

Raising a glass to celebrate a project wrap-up or company's important milestones and having cocktails at the Christmas party is considered the norm by many people. However, making alcohol the primary way for celebrations may promote an unhealthy drinking culture. This can affect employee's health, create peer pressure to consume alcohol, and it may also alienate those employees who don't drink for a whole host of reasons, such as pregnancy, faith, needing to drive, or being in recovery.


"When I quit, it came as a shock how important alcohol is perceived to be when it comes to business dealings. From business dinners and cocktail hours to trade shows and golf outings - booze is always on the menu and the expectation that you will drink is there."

Employees drinking alcohol during company party

Even if your employees are welcome to drink alcohol at work events and celebrations, ensure the focus is not alcohol itself. This can be as simple as taking the focus away from alcohol by not mentioning 'celebration drinks' or a 'happy hour' when sending invites. You could also include mocktails in the celebrations to make everyone feel included while taking the focus away from alcohol. Moreover, if you’re planning after work drinks for your team, you should choose a place where there’s an activity to do other than just drinking, like darts or a pool table, so people who don't drink alcohol can participate as well.


Additionally, as there is a growing trend of people deciding to take a break from alcohol, you could support various alcohol-free challenges and initiatives in the workplace, for example Dry January or Sober October. Whole teams can complete challenges together as an opportunity for team bonding and you can show your employees that they have your support to transform their relationship with alcohol should they choose to.



Consider workplace alcohol screening

Workplace alcohol screening can be an important part of any HSE program and it is especially crucial in safety-critical employment roles, for example when employees are using machinery, electrical equipment and ladders, driving or operating heavy equipment. It's important to emphasize that testing should be used and presented as a supportive tool to help identify any employee who might cause harm to themselves or others. The alcohol screening can also act as a deterrent to the misuse of alcohol in the workplace and can increase corporate responsibility.


If you decide to introduce workplace alcohol screening, this should be covered in your alcohol policy and employees must consent to it. You should think carefully about what you want to achieve with the screening and what you will do with the information it gives you. If you would like to consider alcohol screening at your workplace, get in touch with us and we will help you organise this through our Drug & Alcohol Screening Service.



Support employees with alcohol addiction

Provide resources and support for employees struggling with alcohol addiction. Accessible information about different treatment options, support groups or counselling services in the local area, and allowing time off work to attend therapy can make a huge difference in the lives of those affected by alcohol addiction.


If an employee has issues with alcohol, they could start with making an appointment with their GP who may suggest different types of assessment and support options available to them, such as local community alcohol services or free local support groups. The alcohol addiction support services can be also found on the NHS website.


There are also many organisations and charities that provide support and help not only to those addicted to alcohol but also to people who are affected by someone else’s drinking.



  • Drinkchat from DrinkAware

Drinkchat is a free service for anyone who is looking for information or advice about their own, or someone else’s alcohol use. Their trained advisors are on hand between 9am and 2pm every weekday to give people confidential advice through an online chat service.


  • Drinkline from DrinkAware

Drinkline is a free, confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else's. Helpline: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm)


AA is a free self-help group. Its programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups. Apart from AA meetings, they also offer free national helpline.


The groups offer support to the families and friends of people who are addicted to alcohol, whether they're still drinking or not. They offer free helpline and meetings both in-person and online.


Offers free and confidential advice on alcohol via online chat. It also has an online tool to find alcohol services in the local area.


Adfam is a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol. It operates an online message board and local support groups.


Is a charity which offers a national network of meetings and online training programmes with comprehensive teaching materials and manuals.



It's worth highlighting that if someone has become physically dependent and needs to stop drinking completely, doing it overnight could be harmful. They should get a professional medical advice about this and about any medication they may need to do this safely.


Man addicted to alcohol during group support session

The issue of alcohol misuse at work adversely affects employees’ health, work performance, conduct, and safety. By creating a supportive culture based on respect and sensitivity, and having an alcohol policy in place that sets out clear expectations about behaviour and focuses on the employees' wellbeing, employers can create a safe environment where people feel confident to seek help when they need it. HR professionals and line managers should be trained, confident and capable to respond appropriately to suspected problems and signpost employees to get help. Through taking a proactive approach and considering these simple things, employers could really make a difference.


 

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