Britain's booze culture fuelling £2bn absence bill

Sep 18 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Managers in two out of five British firms believe that over-indulging on the booze is one of the most significant reasons why their workers fail to turn up to work. And even when they do struggle in, more often than not it means they are not firing on all cylinders.

Worryingly, a third of employers polled by the HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development thought it was the same story for employees and drugs.

The situation is being compounded by widespread apathy and ignorance among managers about how much sickness absence truly costs their organisation each year, with a third completely in the dark, a separate study by disability insurer Unum has concluded.

The CIPD poll of more than 500 employers found that many still had no policy in place to help them manage alcohol and drug abuse among their employees.

Fewer than four out of 10 provided co-ordinated rehabilitation support to help individuals with drug or alcohol problems return to work after treatment.

And just half provided access to counselling or to occupational health services for employees fighting drink or drug problems.

This was despite the fact that where organisations referred employees with drug or alcohol problems to specialist treatment or give them rehabilitation support, more than 60 per cent remained working for the organisation after successfully managing their problem, the CIPD said.

Ben Willmott, CIPD employee relations adviser and author of the report, said: "Supporting employees with drug and alcohol problems has a high success rate with many individuals returning to work.

"But organisations must make employees aware of the policies and support in place otherwise they will not have the confidence to hold their hand up and acknowledge they have a problem and need help," he added.

"Since 2001 the number of organisations with drug and alcohol policies has remained around the same and where organisations do have policies they are doing very little to actively promote them," he continued.

"Simply adding a policy to a rarely used staff handbook is unlikely to ensure the issue is seen as an ongoing priority.

"Organisations should engage with their employees to ensure that they are fully aware of its provisions Ė this can be done via staff briefings, poster or publicity campaigns at work, internal notice boards newsletters and email alerts," he stressed.

"Training managers so that they are able to identify and manage drugs and alcohol misuse in the workplace is also essential. Yet only a third of employers train managers in how to manage these sorts of issues at work.

"Clearly drug and alcohol misuse is an issue which needs to be taken seriously within the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive currently estimates that up to 14 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol related problems, costing British industry an estimated £2 billion each year," he concluded.

The Unum poll, meanwhile, also found that almost half of employers did not know how long they would have to pay their employees their full salary if they were unable to work because of illness.

Yet, contradictorily, eight out of 10 employers also believed that their sickness absence procedures were adequate to enable them to manage the financial implications of their employees' sickness absence.

Wojciech Dochan, head of commercial marketing at Unum, said: "Despite the fact many organisations believe that they are handling sickness absence in an adequate manner, they still do not know the real cost of sickness absence to their organisation. It is clear, that to ensure maximum efficiency and productivity, they need to invest more resources in assessing sickness absence and evaluating the exact costs to the business."

Other key findings from the CIPD poll included that just a third of employers trained managers in how to manage misuse of drugs and alcohol at work, with just a fifth extending this training to employees.

A similar percentage, 22 per cent, currently carried out testing for alcohol or drug misuse and nearly a tenth planned to introduce some form of testing in the future.

Six out of 10 employers prohibited alcohol consumption on their premises and a quarter prohibited it when entertaining during work time.

Almost a third of organisations had dismissed employees in the past two years because of alcohol problems.