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Alcohol and the working population

The heaviest drinkers, and thus those with the greatest likelihood of experiencing alcohol problems, tend to be concentrated in those of working age. Heavy drinking during the working week contributes to the prevalence of alcohol-related health problems among adults, which in turn impacts upon the productivity of UK firms.

Up to 17 million working days are lost each year because of alcohol-related sickness and the cost to employers of sick days due to drink is estimated at £1.7bn.[1] The total annual cost to the economy is estimated to be £7.3bn (2009/10 prices).[2]

A recent study produced by Lancaster University claimed to have found 'a robust positive causal link between opening hours and absence' in the last decade, stating that relaxing licensing laws for bars to remain open for longer led to a similar increase in absenteeism.[3]

This is supported by recent survey evidence on professional conduct in relation to alcohol misuse. A 2007 report commissioned by Norwich Union Healthcare produced the following findings on alcohol-related workplace issues:[4]

  • A third of employees admitted to having been to work with a hangover
  • 15% reported having been drunk at work
  • 1 in 10 reported hangovers at work once a month; 1 in 20 once a week
  • Work problems resulting from hangovers or being drunk at work included difficulty concentrating; reduced productivity; tiredness and mistakes
  • The majority of employers [77%] interviewed identified alcohol as a major threat to employee wellbeing and a factor encouraging sickness absence

Among workers, recent data on alcohol-related mortality by socioeconomic classification shows that routine workers are at greater risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease than those in higher managerial and professional jobs.

Men whose jobs are classified as “routine”, such as van drivers and labourers, face 3.5 times the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease than those in higher managerial and professional jobs. Women in “routine” jobs, such as cleaners and sewing machinists, face 5.7 times the chance of dying from an alcohol-related disease than women in higher professional jobs such as doctors and lawyers.[5]


[1]      National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (June 2010), 'Business case: Alcohol-use disorders: preventing harmful drinking', p. 13

[2]      Home Office (November 2012), 'Impact Assessment on a minimum unit price for alcohol', p. 5

[3]      Green, C. P., Paniagua, M. Navarro (2011), 'Play Hard, Shirk Hard? The Effect of Bar Hours Regulation on Absence', p. 3

[5]      ONS (May 2011) 'Alcohol death rate greater for women and men in routine jobs', Health Statistics Quarterly 50, p. 1