Supporting an Employee with Alcohol Abuse Issues

As we move into the New Year many of us will be reflecting on how our lives have changed over past months under the pandemic. Even with the rollout of the vaccine it looks like we’ll be living under challenging circumstances for some time.

Supporting an Employee with Alcohol Abuse Issues

Author: Wendy Beddows, Guest Blogger from Employee Health and Wellbeing at City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council

Date: 7th January 2021

Covid-19 has created unprecedented demands in the workplace and in particular, school staff have had to respond to additional pressures in an already demanding environment.

This on top of dealing with the personal difficulties and loss that Covid-19 has presented to many has led to usually resilient and energetic employees feeling overwhelmed, burnt out and struggling to cope emotionally.

Under manageable pressure people will maintain habits to stay well whether that may be physical exercise, eating well, socialising etc. However, feeling overwhelmed can make us exhausted, affect our self-esteem and often lead us to spiral down into adopting behaviours that; in the longer term; pose a real risk to our mental and physical health and affect both our personal and work lives.

Alcohol and the Pandemic

Now, we could be forgiven for having that beer or glass of wine to help us relax at the end of a long hard day. What’s the harm in an occasional tipple? However, routinely turning to alcohol as a way of coping may turn into problem drinking that ultimately does the opposite to helping us relax and if left unchecked poses both mental and physical health risks. In the workplace it can cause issues with relationships, performance and attendance.

The independent UK Charity Drinkaware under-take extensive research into drinking behaviours. Their Chief Executive says, “There is evidence to suggest many people use alcohol to cope with increased workloads, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Our own research tells us that millions of people have been drinking more than they usually would over the past few months”.

The workplace is in a strong position to engage with staff regarding alcohol under the more general health safety and wellbeing arrangements. Dry January and the associated tools and resources can assist in raising awareness so that staff can check in with themselves and their current relationship with alcohol. This open and pro-active approach will encourage staff to take timely action with regard to their own health and wellbeing. Linking it in with wellbeing more generally such as losing weight, improving sleep – having an holistic approach will also help reduce stigma and provide a safe culture where staff may be willing to open up to their line manager about any alcohol related issues that may be affecting them in school – whether this be their own issues or that of a partner or loved one that they live with.

What can you do?

  • If you don’t have one already it may be worth considering the development of a wellbeing framework, perhaps alongside health and safety arrangements to show that the school values its staff and will support them with all aspects of their wellbeing.
  • As part of this an alcohol policy or guidance document should be in place that outlines a clear process for action that will be taken with regard to alcohol misuse with support at its core but also actions that may be taken to manage the risks in school.
  • Promote Dry January on noticeboards, emails, in meetings to raise awareness and to encourage those that wish to reflect on their relationship with alcohol
  • Drink Aware have a very helpful website with evidence based information and research along with tools and resources to help people to assess their drinking and advice on next steps

The Employee Health and Wellbeing Service

Employee Health and Wellbeing offer a wide range of services through their management referral process. Their multi-disciplinary team approach gives the advantage of you being able to access the expertise of a number of different specialist practitioners.

Launched last year, there are the Wellness Health Checks, a confidential telephone discussion with one of the Occupational Health Technicians who will support the individual through a guided discussion regarding their wellbeing. Up to three goals will be identified with an action plan developed. There is a problem solving approach to this service with realistic bite size steps encouraged to help people build confidence and motivation to solve their own issues.

If you are at the stage where you feel you need to take management action concerning an employee’s behaviour or performance that you think may be alcohol related, consider a referral for an occupational health assessment. Following the assessment, you will be provided with an occupational health report that will help you be clear about which process is appropriate to follow with that individual that will support them whilst also managing any risks at school.

Additional services are available and may be recommended as part of a referral or as a standalone intervention.

For more information about any of the Employee Health and Wellbeing services, please contact