Recently I published an article on Discuss HR posing the question why are employers in denial about the costs they incur through their employees’ drinking. One HR manager replied to me with a fairly comprehensive and very useful list of reasons that employers view as reasons why they do not act. These reasons are listed below along with my answers to them.
The HR manager writes – my initial thoughts are that the problem for employers is that:
1. drinking alcohol is socially accepted and a large percentage of the population/workforce engage in it to varying degrees
This is undeniable, around 94% of the adult population of the UK drink at least occasionally. Having a proactive alcohol policy is not an attempt at stopping people drinking and enjoying it;
Problem, I don’t see any problem
it is designed to stop people abusing alcohol, developing alcohol problems, damaging their health and relationships and costing employers money through lost productivity.
2. Management believe they have enough issues to deal with which cause them performance problems without trying to fix those that don’t.
Agreed, no one wants to look for needless work. However, alcohol is a major cause of absenteeism and poor performance costing businesses around £7.3 billion per annum. Also there are tried and tested methods to reduce its impact.
3. Management believe that what people do in their private lives is nothing to do with management – this is the message from equality training.
This point is less secure. While it is true that workers are entitled to a private life, it begs the question is that private life nothing to do with management when it impacts on their work performance. For example if their alcohol consumption is reducing productivity because of absenteeism or because of arriving at work unfit, is that not a management issue?
4. As drinking for most people is not a `problem’ as they drink sensibly and even heavy drinkers can be high performers, management are not made aware of an issue until an individual either turns up visibly drunk at work, has an accident or as a recent experience of mine as an HR an individual actually brings alcohol into the workplace and starts to consume alcohol whilst undertaking their duties.
True most people do drink sensibly – most of the time. The majority of the costs from
Who forgot to set the alarm?
employees’ drinking (around 80%) is incurred by people that would not be considered problem drinkers. It is the people who binge drink a couple of times a year that cost employers. Recent research suggests that over 50% of the population may binge drink at least sometimes. Therefore this is not an insignificant number of employees. The ‘alcohol problem’ is the employers and not the worker’s.
5. Many organisations have historically allowed employees to drink whilst at work – hospitality events especially involving clients, social functions etc and this practice especially hospitality during normal office hours is for the most part declining.
Glad to see this practice declining.
6. Some employers have introduced Health awareness campaigns but this requires some financial input and HR people need to put forward a robust business case to introduce such. Some Exec members may be happy for posters and such to be displayed but may perceive intruding into their staff drinking habits to be seen as an impingement on their human rights – help with drawing up a business case would be helpful.
There are two issues here, business case and human rights infringement. Taking the second issue first, it is hard to see how it could be infringing anyone’s rights by educating people, improving their health and ensuring that they fulfill their side of the bargain by providing the standard of work that they are paid for. As far as a business case is concerned, there is a growing body of research and reports from businesses that have adopted a proactive policy on alcohol that there is a good return on their investment (ROI). Depending on the type of industry involved, the ROI has been estimated to be anywhere between 300-1700%. If any other course of action were to attract a similar ROI managers would be considered negligent not to adopt it.
7 Testing all employees is expensive – whilst this is appropriate for some jobs and those industries have introduced random testing , how do others justify such and which employees are targeted if any?
Industries that require the operation of heavy machinery or transport would be advised to introduce some kind of testing. However this is probably not a course of action that is required or even advisable in most fields. Again we need to change the way we approach alcohol policy. Instead of being reactive (dealing with drunks) we need to move to a proactive (education) policy that clearly states what is acceptable, what the consequences of transgressions are and education about how to avoid transgressing.
8 Individuals have their own tolerances to alcohol and react differently – we all know the happy drunk, the aggressive/violent drunk, the fall down drunk, the sleeping drunk, the lecherous drunk, the verbose drunk etc. Managers need to be aware of when to act, but how do they without testing decide who has a hangover and pre-empt the need to take action?
Again, the policy should be less reactive and more about proactive. However, knowing if
Better leave him, he is obviously deep in thought!
someone is drunk or hungover rarely needs an expert to determine, it is usually rather obvious. Providing managers and supervisors with training on alcohol awareness, spotting problems and talking to employees about their alcohol consumption, is a wise investment.
9 Managers with the support of HR (where available) already take action when an individual appears to be under the influence to the point of obvious performance problems but many would not like to be the social conscience.
Managers are employed to manage, not to be a social, moral or any other type of conscience. Ensuring that a worker provides a fair days work for a fair days pay is merely doing their job.
10. HR need a toolkit and as previously said a robust business case to bring in measures other than health promotion campaigns about drinking.
Agreed! The business case was discussed briefly in point 6. Maybe HR need to start thinking differently. Rather than invoking disciplinary procedures against someone who is unfit through alcohol maybe there could be a voluntary scheme where the employee could agree to forego part of their salary or take an unpaid day off. This could be part of a new Alcohol Policy.
11. Managers are wary about when they should intervene as many instances go unreported by colleagues.
If the penalties are too draconian then there will be collusion with the workers protecting each other. This may be part of the alcohol culture of the workplace. With a more proactive approach that includes educating the workforce and the management, the collusion can be avoided.
Thank you so much to the HR manager for allowing me some insight into the thinking of employers and HR managers.