Occupational health

Workplace Drinking Culture

Workplace drinking

One in three UK employees reports that there is “a drinking culture” in their workplace, according to research. Should we be worried? Certainly, the extent to which alcohol lubricates our workplaces is clearly visible this time of year, as office workers spill out of pubs and bars after work on summer evenings.

Employee health and wellbeing – the perils of workplace drinking

One in three UK employees (33%) reports a drinking culture in their workplace, research from insurer Canada Life has suggested. What’s more, nearly an equal percentage (29%) say they have regretted their actions after drinking at work, with this being particularly true of younger age groups. More than half (53%) of those aged 25-34 have regretted their conduct after drinking with colleagues. The research highlighted the extent to which alcohol consumption “lubricates” many workplaces, something that can also be seen on almost any high street after work during the summer months, as workers congregate in pub gardens or drink “al fresco” after work. Canada Life found that 14% of employees admit to drinking with their colleagues at least once a week, while 6% do so at least three to four times a week – tripling to almost one in five (17%) 25-34s. And it’s not just younger age groups who find themselves drinking with work colleagues frequently. More than twice as many men drink alcohol on a weekly basis at work (20%) than women (9%), the research concluded.

Peer and colleague pressure

More than a quarter (28%) of UK employees on average said they had felt pressured into drinking alcohol at work in the past, with men more often feel they are subjected to such pressure than women (32% of men versus 22% of women). A third (34%) of UK employees agreed they drank more with their work colleagues than they would normally, with this highest among men (38%) and 25-34-year-olds (64%). Paul Avis, marketing director of Canada Life Group, said: “Most of the time, a casual drink with colleagues is harmless and can help to boost employee morale and teamwork. But when taken to the extreme, this can lead to behaviour that might leave some feeling red-faced the next morning. “A heavy workplace drinking culture could mean that some employees end up in this situation regularly, spelling bad news for their own career, organisational productivity and the HR department. “Employee Assistance Programmes, such as those provided alongside most group income protection policies, are a great way of offering support for employees who may find their drinking has become a problem. Support services such as these are confidential and free to use for employees,” he added.

Team-building and networking

So, should employers be worried by these findings? First, as Avis highlights, alcohol does have an important role to play within the workplace, especially around networking and team-building. The danger is when this gets out of hand, either at an individual or organisational level. If workplace relationships – and power dynamics – revolve around alcohol consumption then that is not only potentially damaging in terms of health and productivity, it can be excluding. Employees who don’t drink, whether for health, religious or other personal reasons, may feel left out or excluded from the office relationships and culture. From a health perspective, the Canada Life research has highlighted the link between many cancers – the biggest cause of group risk claims – and alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol consumption can also, of course, lead to liver and blood pressure problems, damage performance and productivity and be dangerous, especially in a safety-critical environment. As we’ve highlighted on this site before, outside of the safety-critical environment, testing and screening for drugs and alcohol can be fraught with difficulty.

Value of EAPs

But Avis’ comments about EAPs are perhaps worthwhile taking on board. An EAP, clearly, is not going to be a substitute for a testing or screening programme, but it can be a useful halfway house in terms of giving employees somewhere “safe” and confidential to go where they can talk about any worries or concerns they may have, either about their own drinking or a colleague or family member. An EAP can also be a useful resource for managers in terms of understanding best practice around managing a team member who appears to have, or be developing, an alcohol problem. Finally, as well as this, at the very least it is important to have a clear, and clearly communicated and enforced, alcohol at work policy in place. This ensures employees and managers alike can understand the acceptable parameters of workplace drinking, whether at lunchtime, after work or otherwise.

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Posted in Occupational health by OH Assist on the 25th May 2017

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