The image of the hung-over employee has been impressed into our consciousness by a thousand stories and visuals — you know, the cartoon of the guy fast asleep under his desk — and it often takes on comic overtones.
But according to a new study on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, the workplace effects of over-tippling are dramatic, and not funny at all.
The study, done by the federal Centers for Disease Control, found that the overall cost to the nation of excessive drinking rose 11%, to $249 billion, between 2006 and 2010, the latest year for which estimates were available. That figure included everything from alcohol-linked crime to health care costs to alcohol-related deaths to lost workplace productivity.
No-shows and partial-shows
Ominously for employers, the latter category was the one that contributed the most to the overall costs. The data indicated that diminished productivity due to drinking cost about $77 billion in 2010, while vanished productivity — due mainly to absenteeism — accounted for another $12 billion-$13 billion in costs.
Much of the overall cost, by the way, was laid at the door of binge drinking, which the CDC defines as five or more drinks in one sitting for men, and four or more for women.
It’s tempting to think your employees aren’t the kind of people who abuse alcohol, but that sort of thinking has potential pitfalls. Obviously you want to treat employees as adults, and many American adults do drink without serious repercussions, but at the same time you don’t want to overlook — or contribute to — any problems.
Here’s a list of action steps managers and HR people can take to help avoid or mitigate alcohol-related problems among your employees:
- Think twice — or more — before serving alcohol at company functions on your premises. If you provide alcohol at functions outside the office, consider options other than an open bar. Cash bars or service by wait staff are possibilities
- Remember that alcohol abuse — or other substance abuse — may play a role when an employee is frequently absent or late.
- Be alert to the levels of stress that certain employees may be experiencing. Self-medication with alcohol is common among people who feel unbearably and chronically stressed-out.
- If you have an Employee Assistance Program, make sure people know they can look to it for help if they’re concerned about their alcohol consumption. And don’t hesitate to refer people to the EAP as appropriate.
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