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Hangovers cost the UK up to £1.4bn a year

IAS report, 'Financial headache'

As many as 89,000 people may be turning up to work hungover or under the influence of alcohol every day, costing the economy up to £1.4 billion a year, according to new research from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). 

The findings come from a survey of 3,400 British workers that found:

  • 42% had ever been to work hungover or intoxicated, and 9% had done so in the past six months.
  • Working hungover or intoxicated was most common in the hospitality and leisure sector, where 52% of people had ever done so. Rates were also high in retail and construction. 
  • Higher earners were more likely to have gone to work hungover or under the influence. 29% of people earning under £10,000 a year had ever done so, compared to 55% of people earning over £60,000.

Respondents to the survey also reported being affected by others’ drinking at work: 36% suspected that one or more of their colleagues had been hungover or intoxicated in the last six months, reporting reduced productivity, greater stress and a negative effect on team morale. 

On average, respondents believed themselves to be 39% less effective when they were drunk or hungover. Based on average labour costs, and how frequently people are impaired at work, this implies a cost to the UK economy of between £1.2 billion and £1.4 billion a year.

These findings suggest that the UK Government currently underestimates the cost of alcohol to the British economy by almost 20%. The government’s official analysis excludes the impact of working intoxicated or hungover due to a lack of robust data on the issue. The new IAS figures suggest that the government’s estimate of the economic costs of alcohol should rise from £7.3 billion to £8.7 billion. 

Aveek Bhattacharya, policy analyst at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and the author of the report said:

‘Discussions of the economic impact of alcohol tend to focus on employment in the alcohol industry. Yet alcohol is also a drag on the economy, taking people out of the workforce through sickness, unemployment and premature death. Even among those drinking at less harmful levels, working through intoxication and hangovers can reduce productivity. Prior to this survey, we did not have a clear idea of how widespread and costly drunkenness and hangovers at work are. These findings should encourage the Government to revise its official estimates of the cost of alcohol to society, which are now woefully out of date.

'Hopefully, these results will help shift the conversation on alcohol and the economy. Policies to reduce harmful drinking, such as raising alcohol taxes and minimum unit pricing, are often resisted on the basis that they are “bad for business”. Yet our research suggests that these measures will lead to a more productive workforce – and that we will feel the benefits in our pockets.’

Dr Sally Adams, assistant professor in Health Psychology at the University of Bath, and an expert adviser to the project, said:

‘Hangover is the most commonly reported negative consequence of alcohol use with significant health and economic implications. Whilst previous research has estimated the costs associated with hangover-related absenteeism in the workplace, the cost of reduced productivity of being hungover “on the job” has not been explored.

'This new research from IAS reveals the true economic costs of alcohol hangover in the workplace, with evidence of hangover “Presenteeism” and associated impairments in productivity and team morale as reported by individuals and their colleagues. 

'These results also complement our research on the cognitive effects of hangover, which suggests that processes such as attention, co-ordination and memory required in workplace are compromised during hangover. Together these findings indicate that the effects of hangover in the workplace have been underestimated and require greater attention from employers and policy makers.’ 

The full IAS report, Financial Headache: The cost of workplace hangovers and intoxication to the UK economy can be accessed through this link: http://bit.ly/hngvr-cost