After-work drinks, Friday early finish and down the pub, even free beers in the fridge as a workplace benefit, whether we like it or not drinking culture is part of working life in the UK and even more so in typically male-dominated industries such as construction – but should it be? Does it still fit with modern working life?
Alcohol Awareness Week takes place every July and with a 2023 theme of ‘ Alcohol and Cost’ we’re taking a closer look at the real cost of a workplace drinking culture.
In recent years the way we work has transformed – for the better, businesses now prioritise employee well-being and maintaining a healthy work-life balance and alongside this, there has been a growing awareness of mental health issues and substance abuse problems in society meaning workplace drinking culture is facing increasing scrutiny.
The health and safety risks of a workplace drinking culture are clear, consuming alcohol during or after work hours can impair judgement, resulting in accidents, injuries and potential harm to individuals and others, even in the safest spaces but when we extend this out to those working on sites, with machinery and other hazardous jobs the risk becomes greater for the individual involved, the people around them and the businesses itself.
Alcohol when combined with work-related stress can can exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression for someone already suffering from these conditions being exposed to a culture where drinking is the norm or even encouraged can be further detrimental.
For businesses, the financial cost of an alcohol-related illness, injury or accident at work cannot be ignored and whilst it isn’t all about the bottom line, there are surely questions to be asked if a workplace encourages a culture which then leads to related issues. For some organisations of course it won’t be so much encouraged as just part of ‘ who they are’ something ingrained, unchanged over a long period of time, this can be difficult to address but there’s opportunity for change
Foster Inclusive Work Environments
By eliminating or significantly reducing workplace drinking culture, organisations can create a more inclusive atmosphere that values diversity, respects individual choices, and ensures everyone feels comfortable and included and whilst not a specific part of your health and safety requirement as an organisation it stands to reason that a workplace where ‘drinking’ isn’t encouraged will result in a healthier workforce, less work-related illness and less likelihood of injury at work.
Support Mental Health
As an employer, you have a health and safety responsibility for all aspects of your employees’ health including their mental health. Organisations should actively support mental health initiatives, provide access to counselling services and create supportive environments which will not just help address the underlying causes of workplace stress but also provide support for those who rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism and for those who feel consuming alcohol is a way to ‘fit in’ it can be particularly difficult to change cultural thinking around topics like alcohol and the challenge is greater in more ‘ traditional’ and male-dominated industries. It’s also a fact that there’s a mental health problem in industries like construction.
Include Alcohol Guidance in your Health and Safety policies
Go one better and address the issues around alcohol in the workplace head-on, whilst you can’t stop anyone from consuming alcohol outside of their working hours you can certainly make it clear that it isn’t permitted during working hours and provide education and guidance on the impact it can have on performance at work and focus on safety, particularly in hazardous environments. You can also address mental health as part of official organisational policies and demonstrate to employees that support is in place should they need it.
Change doesn’t happen overnight A culture which fosters regular alcohol drinking is not the devil but nor is it ideal, from the obvious health risks of long-term and regular drinking to the safety and well-being risks discussed in this article – it is time for change, but it won’t happen overnight.
Drinking culture is deeply ingrained in many sectors and organisations but small changes lead to big impacts and it’s time for organisations to create environments which are able to create great working relationships without the booze.
Need support in addressing alcohol concerns within your organisation? Get in touch
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