On a high: How should employers manage drugs and alcohol in the workplace?

The Tory party leadership election has put the discussion around illegal drugs on the front page of every newspaper. And it’s not just politicians who are admitting to taking drugs – it’s also having an impact on the workplace. More than a quarter of employees have admitted to working under the influence of drugs – 90% of which were under the age of 30.[1]

While younger workers may be seen as more likely to take drugs, the picture varies drastically when we compare this to alcohol. For decades, long boozy lunches were associated with many professions - particularly the media and those in the City of London. As workplaces strive to be more inclusive and lose their ‘old boys club’ mentality, this tradition looks to have petered out. In June, the London Metal Exchange (LME) announced a ban on drinking during working hours, with zero-tolerance of employees trading while under the influence.

Employees that grew up in an ‘alcohol friendly’ culture, where lunchtime or after work drinking was actively encouraged, are much more likely to be heavy drinkers. According to NHS data, those aged between 55 and 64 are the most likely to consume alcohol to excessive levels.

Employers should be aware of the differences between generations when communicating with their employees.

Is alcohol a workplace issue?

Although alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen over the last decade, and excessive consumption dropped by 16% since 2004[2], it still has a significant impact on the UK economy. Every year, UK businesses are losing £7.3 billion to alcohol-related sickness absence[3].

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 3-5% of all sickness absence can be attributed to alcohol.

Why employers should take a proactive approach

It’s not an employer’s role to preach, but to highlight the potential dangers and provide support for those employees who need it. This helps to keep employees in work and healthy.

Here’s our five step plan:
  1. Address the issue – add the topic to a wellbeing plan, or share a link to support pages in a monthly newsletter.
  2. Identify the extent of it – this requires employers to open the dialogue, which could be through an anonymous survey or introducing an ‘open door’ policy with HR for these conversations.
  3. Develop clear guidelines – a formal policy ensures messaging from managers is consistent and gives them a clear procedure to follow.
  4. Treat the issue as a health condition – it’s important employees are treated the same as they would with another health issue.
  5. Seek specialist support – employers can benefit from speaking to an independent occupational health provider for impartial advice.

Why work with occupational health?

Alcohol and drug problems can often be complex, so it’s important to seek medical expertise. In industries where employees are operating machinery and can’t be under the influence - like oil or haulage industries - specialists can also organise regular drug and alcohol testing.

We can get to know your workforce, identify any problems, and help you develop a robust approach, ensuring you have the right framework in place to effectively support all employees.

To find out more about how we can help keep your employees in work and healthy call us on: 0333 344 3800, email: ohenquiries@bhsf.co.uk or visit: www.bhsfoh.co.uk


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