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Covid - Alcohol Issues Associated with Lockdown

This week we have a guest post from John Gillen of the Rehab Clinics Group

Since the country went into lockdown in March, there have been reports of increased alcohol sales in supermarkets. Whilst statistics are not yet clear whether or not alcohol sales have increased overall during the lockdown period, there are suspicions, and some evidence that alcohol consumption has increased by those spending more time at home; whether because they are working from home, have been furloughed or lost their jobs.

Employees can sometimes resort to alcohol and drug abuse due to the psychological pressures related to their job and/or place of work. Reaching for alcohol can provide a quick fix to deal with such pressures but there is often a danger that what is meant to be a short-term solution becomes a long-term problem.

In addition to the impact on the health of your employees, alcohol abuse can also affect productivity, lead to expensive mistakes and be the root cause of safety issues in the workplace.

Employers should remember their duty of care towards employees and if there is suspicion that alcohol abuse is occurring with an individual then it’s wise to have a strategy to deal with what could be a very sensitive problem. It’s unlikely that an individual will be comfortable with any suspicion of them having an alcohol problem to be discussed in public.

Some behaviours that might alert you to the fact that alcohol abuse is becoming an issue for an employee include:

  • A drop in productivity of the employee. The individual might start turning up late for work, missing deadlines demonstrate a lack of focus or display a shortened attention span
  • There may be signs of anxiety which can be either the result or the cause of the abuse. Depression, melancholy and a negative mental attitude may also be evident
  • The employee might look for excuses to consume more alcohol. They may even resort to drinking alcohol during working hours although this is likely to be disguised or hidden
  • Hangover symptoms may be prevalent on a regular basis such as tiredness, nausea and bloodshot eyes
  • Colleague comments might tip you off that an issue exists, even if they are made in jest; although complaints about pulling their weight or smelling of alcohol might be a more obvious red flag

It will be more difficult to spot the signs of alcohol abuse if an employee has started working from home during the pandemic. Some of the physical signs might be apparent over a Zoom meeting but productivity might be a bigger clue or an employee’s reticence to attend a meeting in person.

If you truly suspect that an employee has a problem or could be heading for one, you’ll need to approach them about it. You could hope that it just goes away but if it doesn’t you’ll be dealing with a much bigger issue in the future.

Be sensitive and discreet. You’re likely to face denial at first but if you express that you think there may be an issue and you want to help then the employee is more likely to recognise that their drinking is being noticed and some action needs to be taken.

Helping your employee get back on track and restore their productivity will do wonders for their loyalty. It’s best to have a plan in pace as randomly confronting an employee is unlikely to work in either party’s favour.

If the organisation is prepared to support the employee then he or she needs to “buy-in” to any support programme that is offered. A positive step by step approach should be taken and there should be a plan that the employee can stick to and be accountable to. Whilst we want the individual to recover, you still have a business to run.

Consider the following:

  • Take a positive approach. Remind the employee of the adverse effects alcohol on health, work, family and finances. Try not to be judgemental
  • Help them discover and identify the problem and avoid using negative phrases like addiction
  • Provide anecdotal as well as research-based evidence to help them confront the problem
  • Present the issue as a widespread one. It will ensure that the employee becomes confident of overcoming it
  • Discuss whether any changes are required in their workload or duties. You won’t be able to retain someone a s driver if you know they are drinking but you may be able to offer other tasks
  • Agree a plan and put it in writing. Have a deadline for every step and discuss each milestone with the employee at regular review meetings. A systematic approach will help the employee get over their problem

It’s a good idea to recommend professional alcohol rehab services like those provided by our own organisation. It will help them to recognise the problem and understand that they are not alone and support is available.

And remember, HR Champions are available for any workplace support that employers need. Call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.