Cheers to your health
I think we all know that mixing alcohol and work is a very bad idea, particularly when it comes to safety.
Alcohol reduces our ability to work safely by affecting our nervous system, coordination, motor control, concentration and alertness. It also makes it hard for us to reach good decisions.
So we’re all agreed that drinking on the job is to be avoided but what about the much trickier area of alcohol at work social events?
With one in five Australians over 14 years drinking at levels that are dangerous to their health, a workplace that is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of their workers needs to think carefully about their approach to serving alcohol at social occasions like farewells, Melbourne Cup celebrations and office Christmas parties.
We all know of (and have perhaps experienced) workplaces that have a serious drinking culture; the kind where long boozy lunches and drunken office parties are the norm. While there may be occasions when a celebratory drink is appropriate, drinking too much has serious health implications (liver damage, obesity, increased risk from some cancers) and can also affect our productivity as anyone who has tried to work with a hangover will testify.
One of the best ways for a workplace to avoid developing a drinking problem is to have a policy in place that makes it clear when and how much alcohol will be provided at social occasions. Smart thinking would be to include limiting the number of free drinks provided per worker, always making sure there are non-alcoholic drinks on offer and providing food when alcohol is offered. Other strategies might include organising events at times when alcohol is not expected making the focus on an activity rather than solely on drinking.
Alcohol is the most socially acceptable and widely used mood altering drug in Australia and many people aren’t aware of the health implications of excessive drinking. Workplaces can help by educating workers on the Australian guidelines and on the physical, emotional and relationship harms of drinking too much through information on the intranet, posters, leaflets or lunch and learn talks.
It’s important that management supports these efforts by participating in education sessions and leading by example at social events. For consistency, workplaces should consider the use alcohol as gifts or using alcohol for fundraising.
In some cases, workplaces will need to support workers with a drinking problem to seek help. This can be as simple as encouraging them to speak to their doctor or to call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service.
Free, independent and confidential counselling can be offered through an Employee Assistance Program, or the workplace could support the worker to join an appropriate program. Flexible working arrangements can help hugely in making it possible for workers to participate in these programs.
If you would like some more information on how to support a healthy drinking culture at your workplace, have a look at the factsheet, sample policy and suggested strategies on our website or call us on 1300 550 271.
Updated July 2016
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