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Furloughed workers drinking more during lockdown

More than a third (36%) of furloughed workers have been drinking more since lockdown began, a study has revealed.

Research from alcohol education charity Drinkaware showed that a higher proportion of people on furlough have been drinking more since the lockdown began than those working from home (26%) and all UK drinkers (24%).

Of those who are furloughed and drink, more than a quarter (28%) say they are drinking on days they wouldn’t have before.

Additionally, 15% of drinkers on furlough have had their first drink earlier in the day since the start of lockdown, compared with 14% of drinkers working from home and 12% of all UK drinkers.

More disturbingly, 9% of furloughed drinkers say they have had a drink in secret or covered up the fact they are having a drink since lockdown began.

Elaine Hindal, chief executive at Drinkaware, said: “Changes such as drinking earlier in the day and secretive drinking are signs of potentially problematic drinking behaviours that over time, can develop into alcohol dependency.

“It's essential that employers explore, in a supportive and non-judgemental way, how furloughed workers and those working from home are coping and to assess the support those workers may need to protect their mental wellbeing and maintain positive, healthy lifestyle behaviours that prepare them well to return to work when the time comes.”

With the government’s furlough scheme recently extended and the number of homeworkers still high, Drinkaware has urged employers to reprioritise the health and wellbeing of staff going forward.

This comes as a quarter of UK workers report feeling unsupported by their organisation.

Hindal added: “The welcome extension to the furlough scheme will be vital for organisations as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic and it is good to see employers also offering flexible working.

“But this new normal must not lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, particularly when it comes to the health and wellbeing of the UK workforce.

“Employers must use every opportunity to make sure their staff don’t become disconnected throughout the extended furlough period and must plan for a return to work that prioritises employee health and wellbeing.

“The consequence of not doing this could result in thousands of people returning to work with ingrained drinking habits that could have an impact on their health - both physical and mental.”

Hindal’s concern about the findings, which come from a survey of 2,001 UK adults, was echoed by the CIPD.

Dr Jill Miller, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said: “It’s concerning that many seem to be drinking more as lockdown continues.

“It’s important that line managers are trained to feel capable and confident to manage and support employees in the new remote way of working.

“Keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging employees to ask for support if they are struggling is essential, as is signposting to available support such as employee assistance programmes and information on healthy lifestyles.”

Guidance from the CIPD on managing and preventing drug and alcohol misuse at work is forthcoming.