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  • Callum Dixon

Alcohol and the Workplace - Top Tips

How to avoid your organisation contributing to the 17 million working days lost on alcohol each year

· The estimated cost of alcohol related absences to the UK economy is £7.3 billion annually. · Research conducted in 2017 found that one in five employees admitted to having had at least one day off work in the last 12 months due to a hangover and a third to having been to work with a hangover which left them unable to be productive · Around 14% of those surveyed also stated they drank during working hours.

· In Doncaster alone there are estimated to be in excess of 45,000 working age adults who are drinking at levels that will be harmful to their health.

These statistics paint a pretty concerning picture around the relationship between alcohol and the workplace. Although employers have a legal duty to protect their employees’ health, safety and welfare, very few are proactively or effectively tackling the misuse of alcohol and other drugs in a way which integrates this area of concern into their wider work on wellbeing.

Although anyone can be at risk of problematic alcohol use there are some workplace environment predictors of increased risk;

So what can you do to make sure your organisation isn’t losing productivity to alcohol misuse and is holistically supporting your biggest asset, your people?

1) Identify

One question I often get asked by businesses is how to spot those people who might be misusing alcohol or other drugs.

The answer can be fairly simple; are they behaving differently, are they having unexplained or frequent absences, dips in productivity, performance or conduct issues?

Of course, these are also warning signs for other wellbeing concerns like stress, anxiety or additional responsibilities or challenges in their private life like new caring responsibilities or a relationship breakdown.

Sometimes, however, there might not be any warning signs. In this instance having a work environment where people feel they can raise health and wellbeing issues with their managers, how organisations talk about alcohol and other drugs and how they handle concerns with their staff is the most important factor.

2) Discuss

When approaching any concern with a member of your team it’s important to be conscious about how you frame the issues. This is especially important with alcohol misuse due to the associated stigma and shame. Approaching the issue from a disciplinary perspective is likely to increase the stress on that individual and potential risk the misuse becoming more severe.

Supervisors and managers should not be afraid of discussing such issues openly with their team and reassuring them that there is support available just as they would with a mental health concern or a family bereavement. When an individual feels that their employer understand their misuse and that they are not being stigmatised, they are much more likely to seek support and reduce their drinking.

3) Support

There are all types of support mechanisms that employers can put in place for employees who are misusing substances;

· Counselling – either in work time or out of it.

Local charities can offer reduced rate counselling which has proven effectiveness in this field and can support an individual to overcome the causes behind their substance misuse.

· Time to attend appointments.

Where an individual has a more severe dependency issue they may need to take time out to attend appointments or even to have a medically supervised detox. This should be supported like all other long-term absences.

· Signposting to appropriate agencies.

There are local support agencies in most areas across the UK that can provide your staff and their families with the support they need to overcome the impact of misuse.

4) Learn

Like all wellbeing issues the most important tip is to learn from problems you do encounter.

Increasing awareness amongst the wider workforce about the impact of alcohol misuse is an effective preventative measure, for example making alcohol awareness information (such as how much alcohol constitutes a unit) readily available in the workplace. Upskilling your managers and supervisors is also an important mechanism for supporting your staff and reduces the stigma felt by those who might be drinking at harmful levels, thereby increasing the chances of them accessing support.

Finally, having robust policies, procedures and strategies around alcohol, other drugs and wider workplace wellbeing is crucial to ensuring your organisation isn’t wasting days to hangovers!

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