The impact of employees' heavy drinking on business

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11% of men and 4% of women say they regularly go to work hungover, which affects their productivity

Firms could be underestimating the impact that heavy drinking has on their business, according to research commissioned by Willis PMI Group, part of Willis Towers Watson.

In a study of 1,197 workers more than a quarter (28%) admitted to having gone to work with a hangover, with male workers (35%) more culpable than female (18%). One in 10 (11%) men say they do so regularly, compared with one in 20 (4%) women.

Hangovers were found to have a negative impact on productivity, with almost one in five (17%) 18- to 34-year-olds stating that they had gone to work with a hangover that caused them to be less productive at least 30 times in the past 12 months. This compares with just 5% of 35- to 64-year-olds.

Only 16% of workers said their employer offers health advice on alcohol consumption.

Some respondents had concerns that their employer was encouraging alcohol consumption, with more than a quarter (26%) of employees in the 18- to 34-year-old age group feeling their employer contributes to unhealthy levels of drinking among staff.

Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group, warned that businesses might not be considering the effect binge drinking could be having on their bottom line. "The health dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, from organ damage to a weakening of the body’s immune system, have been well publicised but the impact of lost productivity to UK plc is often overlooked,” he said.

“This study reveals binge drinking is costing British business dear and fires a warning shot across the bows of managers and HR departments. Employers would be wise to address the issue by reviewing their workplace culture and conditions to ensure they’re not inadvertently stoking the flames of alcohol misuse.”

This is a particularly important issue in safety-critical industries, such as tyre service provider ATS Euromaster. Group HR director Irene Stark recommended employers take steps to communicate clearly and effectively with their workforce on this issue.

"We have an alcohol and substance misuse policy and would recommend any organisation has one in place," she said. "We want to help employees who may experience difficulties in this area so we refer people to both our employee assistance programme and occupational health. It's difficult for colleagues to report people they believe to have a problem so we also have a confidential line where they can share concerns on an anonymous basis. I think all of this has helped minimise the problem for us."

She added: "The safety of our employees and customers is a number one priority."

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