Corporate Christmas: Drink and be merry?

Blog posts

12 Dec 2013

Catherine Rickard

Catherine Rickard and Jenny Holmes

It's that time of year again when the Christmas parties start to fill up our diaries. The office Christmas party is often a popular way of thanking staff for their hard work over the year, but for some, the December merry-go-round of celebrations can be part of a damaging corporate hangover, implying hard drinking is normal behaviour and resulting in workers coming into work suffering the after-effects of excessive drinking, which, in turn, reduces their productivity.

The UK has disturbing levels of hazardous and harmful drinking with the consequence of rising rates of alcohol related hospital admissions. This is not, however, a problem that is confined to out of work time. The TUC found in 2010 that some 60 per cent of employers have experienced problems due to staff drinking alcohol[1] and a survey by Norwich Union Healthcare in 2008[2] found that 77 per cent of employers consider alcohol to be the main threat to their employee well-being as well as a driver for sickness absence. The same survey also found that 32 per cent of employees admit to having been at work with a hangover and 15 per cent say they have been drunk at work.

Of those that have had a hangover or been drunk at work, 85 per cent said that this has a negative impact on their performance or mood. This affects their work in a number of ways. For example, 35 per cent said they found themselves less productive and a quarter reported they only did the minimum amount of work before leaving work as soon as possible.

As the festive season progresses, these occurrences are only likely to happen more often, particularly amongst the heavier drinkers in your workplace.

Alcohol use and misuse has also been shown to increase the risk of accidents at work, raise absenteeism and cause poor health in the workplace[3]. However, employers can attempt prevention, early detection and treatment of alcohol problems throughout the year, and benefit from the positive impact on employee health and productivity as a result of reduced absences and alcohol-related injury[4] [5].

An alcohol policy can be an effective way of addressing alcohol issues in the workplace[5] not just during the festive season. Treatment and rehabilitation, rather than disciplinary action, is often the focus of such policies[6] and interventions typically include: health education programmes or lifestyle campaigns; counselling; Employee Assistance Programmes or Occupational Health referrals; and workplace screening, (particularly in professions which are 'safety-critical')[7] [8].

Workplace policies are mostly aimed at creating a safe working environment; promoting the health and well-being of employees; identifying employees with alcohol problems in order to offer support; and promoting a working environment that reduces the likelihood for employees to deny the existence of any alcohol-related problem8.

Workplace programmes are effective in lowering alcohol use and the chances of reduced work performance due to alcohol[9], however, the effectiveness of such interventions is largely dependent on changing existing attitudes in the workplace. The 'social norms' around drinking that are shared by employees often define the standards of appropriate behaviour in the workplace[10]. Alcohol Concern say that normal workplace culture needs to be acknowledged for alcohol misuse to be effectively addressed. For example, some organisations might traditionally include alcohol when conducting business, or a workplace may also commonly use drinking as a way to socialise[11], particularly at that office Christmas party.

It is the responsibility of the employer to monitor the alcohol availability during such occasions and to set cultural norms and expectations, and it is the responsibility of the individual to manage their own consumption….a few soft drinks at the party will also help!


  1. TUC (2010) "Drugs and alcohol in the workplace", Trade Union Congress, 2010
  2. Aviva (2008) UK employees admit that regular drinking affects their jobs. Norwich Union Healthcare, 7 May 2008
  3. Hermansson, U., A. Helander, et al. (2010). " Screening and brief intervention for risky alcohol consumption in the workplace: results of a 1-year randomized controlled study." Alcohol and Alcoholism 45(3): 252-257.
  4. Cercarelli, R., S. Allsop, et al. (2009). "Workplace interventions for alcohol and other drug problems." The Cochrane Library.
  5. Webb, G., A. Shakeshaft, et al. (2009). "A systematic review of work-place interventions for alcohol-related problems." Addiction 104(3): 365-377.
  6. Alcohol Concern Wales (2009) Factsheet - Alcohol Concern's information and statistical digest - November 2009
  7. IDS (2011) Alcohol and Drugs Polices, IDS HR Studies 943, June 2011
  8. CIPD (2007) Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work, CIPD Survey report September 2007, Charted Institute of Personnel and Development.
  9. IDS (2011) Alcohol and Drugs Polices, IDS HR Studies 943, June 2011
  10. Pidd, K. R., A. (2009). "Prevention of alcohol-related harm in the workplace" Prevention Research Quarterly 10.
  11. Barrientos-Gutierrez, T., D. Gimeno, et al. (2007). " Drinking social norms and drinking behaviours: a multilevel analysis of 137 workgroups in 16 worksites." Occupational and Environmental Medicine 64(9): 602-608.
  12. Alcohol Concern Wales (2009) Factsheet - Alcohol Concern's information and statistical digest - November 2009

About Catherine

Catherine joined the IES HR team in June 2009, working primarily on reward consultancy projects. Prior to joining IES, she was Assistant Editor of the Incomes Data Services (IDS) Pay Report journal before moving to the Executive Compensation and Reward division of Towers Perrin.

To arrange a media interview with Catherine, please email or call 01273 763 414.

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