Sagegreen HR examines the subject of alcohol related dependency and highlights ‘Sober October’ and Alcohol Awareness Week (16-22 November 2020). As an employer, mental health and alcohol related dependency are difficult issues to approach and address. We provide information, hints, tips and resources to help you support your employees.
Before lockdown in March, alcohol related absence cost the UK £7.3 bn a year. Alcohol sales increased by 22% and outstripped food purchases in the immediate aftermath of lockdown and studies have found that 27% of people say their alcohol consumption has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There a numerous pieces of employment legislation that relate to alcohol and drug misuse at work and all employers should have a clear policy on drug and alcohol misuse. We would always recommend that any alcohol related dependency issue is regarded, primarily, as a wellbeing issue. There should be a supportive culture in which employees are encouraged to disclose any problems and help is offered to prevent or address issues rather than waiting to take disciplinary action if any incidents occur.
If you notice changes in behaviour or performance, e.g. increased absence, lateness, poor work performance that alert you that there may be an issue, it is important to raise your concerns. However, this may be a difficult conversation, as these signs may be caused by any number of things, e.g. a mental health problem. In these situations, we would recommend the following approach:
- Use open, non-judgmental questions to start the conversation. For example, ‘You’ve looked very tired over the last few days. How are you feeling?’ may elicit more of a response than ‘Is everything alright?’ (to which a person may just say ‘yes’);
- Stress that the intention is to try to support the person;
- Focus the discussion on specific examples of concerning behaviour (e.g. unkempt dress, changing attitude, deterioration in punctuality, and so on);
- If the employee is prepared to discuss the situation with you, ensure that they do not feel under pressure or judged. Use the terms ‘problem with alcohol’ rather than ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcoholism’ or ‘addicted’;
- Treat the matter in a non-judgmental and confidential way;
- Thank them for their disclosure.
Offer the support of occupational health and your Employee Assistance Programme if in place and explain how employees can access these services. You may also want to list other sources of support that employees could approach (e.g. their GP, specialist charities e.g. AA, NA, Drinkaware or FRANK).
If the person has already contacted specialist agencies for support or is seeking professional support, identify how the company can accommodate them (e.g. what time off might be needed).
Consider any health and safety implications and whether there is any element of the employees’ role that may put them or others at risk.
Reassurance that only those who need to be aware of the employee’s situation will be informed.
If the employee denies that there is an issue, or is not prepared to discuss it with you, and if you have access to an occupational health service, you could suggest this route as the employee may be more open to help from external services.
To fulfil your duty of care to your employees, you may also consider subscribing to an Employee Assistance Programme which could provide valuable help, such as confidential helplines and counselling. Our parent company, advo’s Employee Benefits team would be pleased to help you source an Employee Assistance Programme for your business.
You may also need to keep a ‘watching brief’ on the employee’s behaviour over a period of time to see if the problematic behaviours continue. Make a note in their HR file to record the fact that you have raised the issue and recording the person’s response. If things do not improve, you may want to retry the approach above, although you may need to consider starting your disciplinary or performance management/capability procedures. In these circumstances, Sagegreen HR would be able to provide guidance and support.
To support your employees and a worthwhile cause, you may consider your company’s involvement in Sober October. Macmillan Cancer Support are again launching Sober October this year. However, there are some new options for those taking part. You can choose to have a Sober(ish) October by taking on the challenge for 14 or 21 days, or challenge yourself to take on the full 31 days. Having a break from alcohol has great health benefits, such as having more energy, a clearer head and sleeping better, plus no hangovers!
All money raised will help Macmillan continue being there for the millions of people living with cancer in the UK. For more information, please see the link: https://www.gosober.org.uk/about/the-challenge
Alcohol Awareness Week 16-22 November 2020
16-22 November 2020 is the start of Alcohol Awareness Week. The theme of this week is Alcohol and Mental Health and this week could also provide you with the opportunity to drive a conversation about alcohol and raise awareness of support services.
alcoholchange UK provide free digital resources to help you run Alcohol Awareness Week in your workplace, including posters, social media images and factsheets. You can find out more information here.
If you feel your organisation needs more support then Sagegreen HR is here to help. Just email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.
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