Seventeen million sick days are taken in the UK every year due to alcohol and around 200,000 people turn up to work every day with a hangover. Alcohol is the world’s number one risk factor for ill-health and premature death among 25- to 59-year-olds, the core of the working age population.
But while we can talk generally about cutting back on smoking, obesity, and exercise, is it still taboo to discuss alcohol with your workforce without sounding like you’re casting judgement?
Most people are aware of 'don’t drink and drive' messages. The statistics show that deaths and serious accidents from drinking and driving have fallen by three-quarters over the past 35 years. But there’s still some work to be done to help people understand whether they’re over the limit the next day. If you employ drivers, pilots or operatives this is vital and probably something already addressed. But did you know it takes an hour for each unit of alcohol to work its way through your system? If your employees are starting early then cascading that message is vital.
Why we talk about having a little less
3.5 million men are drinking over the low risk guidelines of six pints a week and this matters because they are increasing their risk of an alcohol-related illness. Focus groups revealed most men don’t like being told to reduce their drinking at the pub, so we recently encouraged a group of middle-aged men to try cutting back on their at-home drinking for six weeks. We asked some of them to get a liver assessment and in two cases there was liver inflammation; both ‘testers’ said they weren’t big drinkers.
One tester is a long-distance lorry driver and had no idea that his drinking had contributed to his weight gain. He lost nearly a stone following our programme. Another was shocked to discover his liver reading was too high and the inflammation showed the beginnings of liver disease. His reading was 79, normal is 40. After cutting back for six weeks it greatly reduced and is now down to 64.
Both are in their fifties and could be working for at least another fifteen years. Neither had realised that the way in which they had been consuming alcohol had such a detrimental effect on their health.
Being open about alcohol with your workforce
So isn’t it time for employers to stop being coy about talking to their workforce about booze? But how to do this diplomatically without coming across as overbearing?
One target could be after work drinks. These can be a bonding experience but can also discriminate against those who don’t like alcohol or need to rush home to take up caregiving duties. Consider: if you hold parties do you push non-alcoholic alternatives as much as the alcoholic ones?
If it’s hard to determine who might benefit from tackling their drinking then consider: are you promoting messages about the effect of alcohol as prominently as anti-smoking and obesity? A good place to start could be our self-assessment tool. It’s discreet and non-judgemental, and a positive starting point to engage your workforce.
Elaine Hindal is chief executive of Drinkaware