Dry January is now a global event, which requires a global response from employers with overseas staff. The harmful use of alcohol causes great risks to health and has significant social and economic consequences, it can also be detrimental to the wellbeing of friends, family, and colleagues. This is why, employers should offer help with managing alcohol consumption, taking the opportunity to use Dry January as a call to action.
Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection says: “Many employees around the world could benefit from workplace support to manage their alcohol consumption. There is a lot of support available but employers are not always aware of this and they may need to review their health and wellbeing programme to ensure it helps employees wherever they’re based around the globe to manage their drinking.”
A global issue for employers
Alcohol misuse is a problem around the world. The highest rates of alcoholism are in Hungary and Russia. But with South Korea and the United States also within the top eight countries for alcohol use disorder, the problem is widespread.
Employees working abroad may be at greater risk of over-drinking due to the different challenges they face. Overseas staff may drink to feel included, or to forget any feelings of loneliness or isolation. Drinking too much may also be masked by corporate entertainment or the expat lifestyle.
The extent of the issue
Alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors in premature death. Worldwide, 3 million deaths occur every year as a result of harmful use of alcohol. This represents 5.3% of all deaths worldwide. Beyond the health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals, businesses, and society as a whole, and there is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders.
Actions employers can take
It can be helpful to run anonymised surveys to identify where employees need support. These may highlight alcohol use and misuse, and where there are issues that need to be addressed. Anonymised, online surveys are easily distributed to employees wherever they are based. They are simple for employees to complete and can be analysed to inform any action that needs to be taken.
It is important to look at the demographics of the workforce when considering support. Males tend to exceed females in both alcoholism and overall alcohol consumption by a wide margin1. Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life; in people aged 20-39 years, approximately 13.5% of total deaths are attributed to alcohol2, so the age demographic of the workforce is also an important consideration when putting wellbeing benefits and support in place.
Support might include access to alcohol-cessation programmes, or wider support to help people deal with underlying issues, build resilience and find coping measures. Helping employees who have an alcohol dependency issue is something that needs professional assistance. While colleagues and line managers should be encouraged to be supportive, they are not qualified to tackle such situations themselves, so providing access to professionals is a must.
While it can be difficult to confront the issue, engagement with support is likely to increase if employees know it is 100% confidential. Communication methods will be key, with regular messaging and clear signposting.
Sarah Dennis says: “Dry January is a really good opportunity for employers to introduce the idea of alcohol reduction and cessation. It creates a talking point and the chance to provide information to the entire workforce, in the UK and abroad, so that nobody feels singled out and everyone is provided with options for support.”