For many, Dry January has become an annual challenge: a chance to kick start the year with a detox after the heavy festive period and to help out a depleted, sorry looking, bank balance. In an ideal world it needs to be more than just a one-off, one-month avoidance of alcohol. If we look at the evidence, there’s no getting away from the fact that alcohol has a serious impact on our health and our work:
Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages [Source].
Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression [Source].
In England in 2016/17, there were an estimated 1.13 million hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption (7% of all hospital admissions, 67% higher than ten years previously). In the same period there were 337,000 admissions for conditions directly caused by alcohol, 17% higher than ten years previously [Source].
Lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion annually. An estimated 167,000 working years are lost to alcohol every year [Source].
Between 3% and 5% of all work absence is caused by alcohol consumption [Source].
Research has confirmed that workplace stress can make employees want to drink more. [Source: You Gov (2012) Workers more stressed now]. Just as in certain industries drinking is the norm and for some, the inherent culture encourages drinking to be the focus of social events, or an informal way to let off steam with colleagues. Does this sound familiar to your organisation? What can you do? You are likely to already have an alcohol policy and provide EAP (Employee Awareness Programme) support but perhaps some of the following ideas could spark some healthy changes:
Conduct an employee survey to understand the embedded culture and current attitudes to alcohol in your workplace – find out what you have to contend with
Do you offer health checks for anyone concerned about their drinking? Speak to your occupational health provider to arrange onsite clinics
Organise a series of social events that don’t centre on alcohol: yoga or mindfulness workshops, sponsored runs/hikes/bike rides, tough mudder, cookery classes, team treasure hunt, laughter workshop - get creative!
Congratulate and recognise anyone who has completed Dry January. It is an achievement to celebrate. Encourage them to share the many benefits to ditching the booze - improved sleep, more energy, weight loss and money in the bank! Let’s hope they have enjoyed the improvements to their health and wellbeing and continue their new habits for the long-term.