Employee use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs

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There is a strong business case for employers to have policies in place to allow employees to make responsible choices

In the UK, 1.5 million people are addicted to prescription over-the-counter medicines. Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the economy £7.3 billion a year. A quarter of the population drink alcohol at levels that increase their long-term risk of becoming ill. Smoking costs employers £5.3 billion a year through increased sickness absence and smoking breaks, and staff who smoke are 33% more likely to be absent from work.

Significant drug, alcohol and tobacco use can be related to self-medication, in response to work-induced stress and poor mental health at work.

In direct response to this, Business in the Community has partnered with Public Health England and published a toolkit for employers on employee drug, alcohol and tobacco use. This guidance falls into three broad areas and works for organisations of all sizes. There is a simple checklist of steps to take under each area.

1. Creating the right environment

A clear commitment from senior leaders sends a powerful message to employees at all levels.This will ensure those who are implementing policies on health and wellbeing will have the support and authority they need to promote healthier choices.

We spend lots of time at work, therefore if our workplace promotes wellbeing this helps employees make healthier choices to improve their quality of life. This reduces the chance of problems with alcohol and drugs and encourages those who smoke to quit.

Health and wellbeing events can also help staff make healthier choices and help build emotional resilience, which enables people to deal with stressful situations. These initiatives are most effective when senior management is involved.

2. Knowledge and training

Drug, alcohol and tobacco policies at work are covered by numerous pieces of legislation, applicable and subject to enforcement at corporate and individual levels. The toolkit is intended for use in England but different legislation may apply in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is an employer’s responsibility to know the law but there is a summary of key legislation for employers.

Line managers and employees should be educated about the effects of alcohol and drugs on health, job performance and work safety. Communicate the value your organisation places on the personal health of its employees.

3. Produce a policy

A policy is a formal statement of the organisation’s intent, clearly stating the rules and procedures for dealing with issues of alcohol and drug misuse. The toolkit includes an adaptable framework for organisations to use.

All the actions suggested are evidence-based and designed to promote the health and wellbeing of employees. The toolkit cites best practice using case studies as examples and includes signposting to a range of additional resources to help both employees and employers. There are also template policies and new guidance from Public Health England on vaping.

Employees, with the right support from employers, can combat drug use, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking and be the best version of themselves inside and outside of the workplace.

Louise Aston is wellbeing director at Business in the Community

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