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Alcohol awareness: Are you drinking more than you think?

28th November 2022

Glasses clicking - alcohol awareness

Imagine you’ve had a long day in the office and a stressful rush-hour commute. You finally arrive home, drop your belongings, and head to the kitchen to pour your favourite tipple.

Sitting down, you kick off your shoes to mark the end of the working day and savour that pleasurable feeling of the first sip. A time to reflect and reward the achievements of the day and a moment to relax. One glass turns into another, one more glass while cooking the evening meal, one more while dining and a little one before bed.

Before you know it, the whole bottle and maybe more has been polished off.  And after a poor night’s sleep, you wake up the following morning feeling groggy, tired, and unable to concentrate. Sound familiar?

Implications of Covid-19 on work life

March 2020 saw the arrival of the Covid pandemic and very quickly we were fast-tracked to remote working and our home life routines changed. This was an ideal situation for some, who enjoyed spending more time at home with the family, had no commute to work, felt they had more focus and higher levels of concentration, reduced distractions away from the chitter chatter of the office and worked more efficiently for a more productive day.

However, for some, working from home was quite the opposite. Working in isolation, missing the connection with teammates, feelings of loneliness, a lack of routine and Covid related stress, all contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression.

The rise in alcohol consumption during the Covid-19 lockdown

There is evidence that drinking at home significantly increased during the Covid pandemic.  Data from HMRC calculated a 4.5% rise in alcohol sales between April and October 2020 compared to 2019.

Neilson et al (2021) demonstrated higher levels of drinking in those who were working from home for 15 hours or more per week and Kilgore et al (2022) demonstrated higher levels of daytime drinking in those employed and working under lockdown restrictions between April 2020 and September 2020.

Research also suggests that working from home acts as an enabler to daytime alcohol consumption and along with no direct employer supervision there may be little regard to possible consequences of drinking while working at home in comparison to drinking on work premises. Feeling lonely and disconnected from workmates may increase anxiety and depression resulting in individuals turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Covid-19 shaping our way of working

The Covid-19 pandemic forced businesses to immediately adapt their processes, procedures, and delivery to ensure they could continue running as their staff had to work from home, many for the first time. As lockdown restrictions lifted over time, remote working has evolved into a new hybrid model and has become an increasingly popular way of operating. It is important to monitor our own individual drinking habits to reduce harmful risks to our health. As an employer, it is equally important to watch for signs of alcohol misuse in our employees to prevent losses from reduced productivity.

Good to know

The UK Chief Medical Officer Department of Health’s guideline is no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread over three days or more and at least 2 alcohol-free days per week.

If you would like to measure your alcohol consumption Drinkaware has some useful resources  Drink Tracker & Tools | Drinkaware

If you are worried about your level of alcohol consumption or daytime drinking, here are some tips to help modify your drinking habits

  • Remove alcohol from your home and replace it with interesting new drinks, fruit juices, herbal or fruit teas
  • Plan your daily routine
  • Plan healthy meals and schedule them into your day
  • Take regular breaks
  • Take a lunchtime trip outside for a breath of fresh air and a walk
  • Record how much you are drinking and your thoughts and feelings in a journal
  • Take a 5-minute meditation at the beginning, middle and end of the working day
  • Take up some exercise which importantly is something you enjoy
  • Learn something new

How can you help as an employer?

  • Cascade and make available your workplace alcohol and substance policy
  • Train managers and HR in alcohol awareness to help spot signs of alcohol misuse at work
  • Make available health promotion material, including online support and provide information on local services and helplines
  • Raise awareness of your Employee Assistance Programme if you have one and encourage employees to utilise the service
  • If you are working to a hybrid model, regularly keep in touch with employees with video calls

The festive season is almost upon us so here are some tips if you would like to reduce your alcohol intake and still enjoy the party!

  • Designate yourself as the driver
  • Don’t drink at home prior to going out
  • Eat before you leave
  • Opt for smaller drinks, a half pint, a single with a mixer
  • Choose low-strength or alcohol-free options
  • Swap a cocktail for a mocktail
  • Avoid additional shots
  • Have a soft drink in between alcoholic drinks

Health@Work specialises in wellbeing in the workplace. We have a variety of courses for employees and managers to help you improve wellbeing. We are also the providers of the national accreditation Workplace Wellbeing Charter.