One Too Many? The impact of extended drinking hours on workplace absence

Extended drinking hours in England and Wales have led to a significant rise in workplace absence, according to a report in this week’s People Management magazine online.

Researchers from Lancaster University Management School have done a comparison of absence rates from before and after the changes to the Licensing Act in 2005. They found that after the changes (which allowed more pubs and bars to stay open after 11pm) absence rates rose by one per cent.

The figures cited in the article suggest that based on a workforce of 25 million people, this one per cent rise in sick leave equates to an estimated additional 667,702 sick days in total across all workers in England and Wales.

Increased absence was particularly marked amongst women – a predictable finding given the now well-publicised fact that levels of female drinking have been increasing significantly in recent years.

While the findings are perhaps not that surprising, the research does highlight some interesting issues for businesses.  No employer wants its people to be taking sick leave that could be avoided – but it’s not just about the employee who takes the odd extra day off because they’ve had one over the eight the night before.

Often, it’s the people who do come into work after a heavy night out who are more of a worry than those who wake up with a banging hangover and stick their heads straight back under the duvet.

We all know that our performance suffers when we struggle into work after a few more drinks than would have been strictly advisable.  But this lack of alertness is of course far more serious for those who may be operating potentially dangerous equipment, driving a company vehicle or making critical decisions that affect the safety and well being of others.  And of course it will do your company’s reputation no good at all if someone tips up for a meeting with clients while clearly hung over from the night before.

Any organisation worth its salt will of course have an alcohol and drugs policy that makes it clear what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace and what the consequences will be for those who flout the rules.

But there’s also a debate to be had about whether employers actually have a role to play in helping to educate staff about alcohol misuse, perhaps as part of a wider ‘healthy workplace’ initiative.

The statistics about drug and alcohol abuse are alarming – and suggest that it’s education that is definitely needed.  More than a quarter of men drink more than the recommended 21 units of alcohol a week, while 17 per cent of women exceed the recommended 14 units a week.

Thirty-six per cent of 16-59 year olds have used one or more illicit drugs in their lifetime, with 12 per cent having used an illicit drug at least once in the past year.

So what’s your view? Is a few drinks on a school night something that’s entirely a personal issue for your staff – or as a responsible employer should you be aiming to highlight information about the dangers of alcohol misuse?

On a practical note, are you using HR software systems to help you track absences, identify these kind of issues and get a better understanding of what’s really behind your short term absence rates?   We’d be interested to hear about the approaches that are working best for you.

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