Hangovers could be costing UK Plc up to £1.4 billion per year, according to pioneering research from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). 
In its new report Financial Headache: the Cost of Workplace Hangovers and Intoxication to the UK Economy,  the organisation found that 42% of the 3,400 workers it surveyed had gone to work either hungover or intoxicated, and 9% had done so in the past six months.
Higher earners emerged as more likely to have gone to work hungover or under the influence, with 29% of people earning less than £10,000 exhibiting such behaviour, compared to 55% of people on salaries in excess of £60,000.
Respondents also reported being affected during working hours by their peers’ drinking habits: 36% suspected that one or more of their colleagues had been hungover or intoxicated in the workplace over the past six months, resulting in reduced productivity, exacerbated stress and negative effects on team morale. On average, respondents believed themselves to be 39% less effective when they were drunk or hungover.
On the basis of that data, the IAS has estimated the annual financial costs to UK businesses as anything between £1.2bn and £1.4bn.
“Though alcohol-related presenteeism is believed to be a significant drag on the British economy,” says the report, “there is a lack of reliable evidence on the issue, and presenteeism is not included in the UK government’s estimate of the economic cost of alcohol.”
IAS policy analyst Aveek Bhattacharya dubbed alcohol “a drag on the economy, taking people out of the workforce through sickness, unemployment and premature death”. He noted: “Even among those drinking at less harmful levels, working through intoxication and hangovers can reduce productivity. Prior to this survey, we did not have a clear idea of how widespread and costly drunkenness and hangovers at work are. These findings should encourage the government to revise its official estimates of the cost of alcohol to society, which are now woefully out of date.”
Report adviser Dr Sally Adams of the University of Bath added: “This new research from IAS reveals the true economic costs of alcohol hangover in the workplace, with evidence of hangover presenteeism and associated impairments in productivity and team morale, as reported by individuals and their colleagues.”
In light of the leadership challenges associated with diminished productivity and morale, how should leaders respond to the report’s findings?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “I’m not surprised to find out about these figures – if you examine any workplace issue in detail, you will find these sorts of challenges. Backache was once the primary focus of wellbeing commentary. Then the discussion shifted to the arena of mental health – then presenteeism, which is a huge factor in this research, coupled with people coming to work having recently been drinking. We know how damaging alcohol is to our thought processes, which is why you are not meant to operate heavy machinery or drive while you are using it.
“But this really makes us think about how often people are in work when they’re not feeling super-productive or at their best – yet are manging to keep going. That could be down to a number of things. Perhaps they are somehow able to be unobserved. Or perhaps they have a knack for averaging out their productivity so they can absorb the off days of lower energy and efficiency. As is so often the case, it’s up to line managers to really get to know their team members – to understand when staff performance is deviating or deteriorating, and to be mindful of any reasons why that may be the case.”
Cooper notes: “Line managers must also ensure that any employee assistance programmes (EAPs) available within the organisation are well publicised. Any addiction has impacts and consequences that are far broader than the work role that someone is performing. With alcoholism, we know how devastating the effects of that disease can be for the individuals concerned. As employers, we can’t solve everyone’s problems – but what we can do is put support in place so that anyone can get help if they need it. So the line manager should be the first person who notices these differences – and should have the confidence to broach problems like this sensitively. EAP lines must be confidential and able to provide help on any issue that workers are facing. Every employee should know their EAP line’s number.”
She adds: “Alcohol is a difficult area, because it is used so regularly in workplace social situations. So leaders must be careful not to be seen as two-faced in their approach to the issue. Encouraging staff to form a thriving social culture may have its benefits – but there are downsides, too. So in terms of messaging, clarity and consistency are required.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on the healthy workplace