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Dean Royles: Let's challenge workplace alcohol habits

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Employers should reconsider rewarding employees with alcohol if they want to see improvements in staff wellbeing and performance, the head of NHS Employers has said.

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, called for organisations to promote better workplace attitudes to alcohol by encouraging staff to take a month off drinking and re-evaluate their behaviour.

Speaking to HR Magazine on the final day of a national campaign that challenges people to give up alcohol for the month of January, Royles said his organisation had encouraged up to 140,000 NHS Employers employees  to go ‘dry’ as part of a health and wellbeing initiative.

He described alcohol as one of the “big-hitting, underlying issues that will impact on sickness absence rates, productivity, efficiency, stress and wellbeing” in the workplace.

“We have 1.3 million employees in the NHS who are typical of the population as a whole, and we know about a quarter of people drink more than their sensible limits,” Royles said.

“There needs to be a sea-change in the way we and employers associate alcohol with a sense of celebration and reward. I’ve noticed that often people will put comments on twitter during the working day such as ‘it’s wine-o’clock’ or ‘I’ve earned this’ and they post a picture of champagne.

“But alcohol in the workplace is very difficult to address because you look like a kill-joy,” he added.

Royles said the Dry January campaign, organised by charity Alcohol Concern, was a good way for HR professionals to address the issue because it didn’t target particular individuals.

“It’s meant as something that helps you to re-evaluate your personal relationship with alcohol,” he said of the campaign.

“Evidence suggests that if you have a period of abstinence, you recognise you might have habit-forming issues around drink, such as having a glass of wine after work, not because you need it or because you’re thirsty, but because it’s just what you do.

“If you have a period of abstinence, people tend to moderate their consumption for the rest of the year.”

NHS Employers plans to evaluate the impact of promoting the campaign among its staff over future months. Royles said staff had reported feeling more rested and noticed and questioned habits such as rewarding staff with a bottle of wine.

“We hope in the longer-term, as people recalibrate their alcohol intake during the year, we’ll see things like lower levels of sickness absence,” he said.

Benefits of being 'dry'

Alcohol Concern director of campaigns Emily Robinson said HR professionals should encourage their staff to talk and think about drinking.

“Being able to do this is really important in the workplace and not just for those working in safety critical roles,” she said.

“Hungover colleagues and those still under the influence affect the wellbeing of all staff – whether by having to fill-in in their absence, rectifying mistakes or low productivity.

“Organisations can use Dry January to start a conversation about alcohol in a way that’s non-threatening, doesn’t single anyone out but instead fosters a positive and supportive atmosphere.

“It can also help the workplace take steps towards a booze-free social life and rewards culture which ultimately benefits everyone.”

This is the second year Alcohol Concern has held the Dry January campaign, but the first year NHS Employers has piloted the initiative among 30 NHS trusts with Public Health England.