The ACT government says that close to half of ACT workers consume harmful levels of alcohol on a single occasion.1 Certainly ACT is not the only state or territory that can make that claim. What does that have to do with the workplace? The answer: Some of those “single occasions” are likely work-related events or occur after work when people gather to “have a few.” Employers can play an important role discouraging this type of behaviour by creating a workplace culture that supports healthy lifestyles and by ensuring a consistent message is sent in the way work activities and events are conducted.
Here is a fact coming out of research. Keeping drinking to four or less drinks on any occasion reduces the risk of injury occurring on that occasion.2 When an employer hosts a party, conference, or other event, there are always people who over-drink. When it is tolerated, the person earns a reputation, but just as importantly, a clear message is sent to the workplace: Drinking too much alcohol is okay on some occasions.
Looking for Mixed Messages
It is easy to send mixed signals without meaning to cause harm. However, it does not make sense to have a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol in the workplace and then condone drinking at work events. Inconsistent messaging undercuts the type of culture the employer wants to develop to promote a drug and alcohol free workplace. The following strategies are examples of how a consistent message is delivered:
- Develop a workplace AOD policy that addresses alcohol consumption at workplace events
- Train employees on responsible drinking as a lifestyle choice
- Provide resources and information on safe drinking habits and the impact of alcohol on the body
- Provide resources to employees who want help reducing their alcohol consumption
- Educate employees on the medical research concerning safe drinking levels
- Prohibit alcohol in the workplace during any event
- Limit alcohol provided at off-site employer-sponsored events (planning ahead for getting workers home safe should they drink more than two drinks)
- Always provide non-alcoholic drinks as an option when alcohol is served
- Plan events that promote healthy lifestyles and involve no alcohol
- Provide each employee the option of a health screening
- Adhere to the random AOD testing program
- Consistently respond to incidences when testing produces positive results
These are just some of the ways employers can regularly and consistently remind employees that they are expected to remain alcohol free in the workplace and keep alcohol consumption to recommended safe levels on single occasions and over the long-term. Instead of focusing on catch-the-alcohol-consuming-employee, the employer should focus on developing a workplace culture that discourages alcohol use because it is the right thing to do for good health. Using a whole of organisation approach is the best strategy.
Mediscreen is a collecting agency and NATA accredited onsite drug & alcohol screening service provider. Mediscreen also offers workplace Health and Wellness services that give employees a health snapshot of critical functions and provides factors for comparison. These services are essential to promoting a workplace culture that promotes healthy lifestyles.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (2009). Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Australian Government: Canberra.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers (2011). ACT Workplace Health Promotion Needs Analysis: Summary Report. Prepared on behalf of the ACT Government Health Directorate. Accessed 7 March 2012 at http://bit.ly/1fsCtx8