Christine Hayhurst suggests a policy in the workplace to help counter the possible effects of employees taking advantage of longer pub opening hours during the week

Last month the government enacted legislation giving pubs the freedom to open for longer hours. If you enjoy going out for a few drinks with colleagues, this no doubt comes as welcome news. But what are the implications if, after a late night out, staff turn up for work still suffering the effects of the previous evening? It raises the serious issue of how to deal with alcohol in the workplace.
The papers are full of photos of celebrities out drinking mid-week - Prince Harry in Soho, Charlotte Church in Kensington. That’s all very well if you have a flexible agenda, but what about the average person who has to be at the peak of their performance every day?
The effects of too much alcohol do not disappear with just a few hours’ sleep and the impact this might have on your business is clear - lower productivity, increased absenteeism, accidents and damage to the organisation’s reputation.
And it’s not just celebrities who over-indulge. Government statistics reveal Britons are the worst binge drinkers in Europe. Research among managers also shows one in five believe alcohol misuse has increased in their organisation over the past few years.
But can you impose policies on activities that effectively happen outside normal working hours? And, if so, how do you go about implementation?
In the emergency services or occupations involving dangerous machinery, employees have long been banned from drinking before or during work. So why not the retail trade? In the interests of good customer service, those working among FMCGs need to be just as careful. When your business involves face-to-face interaction, staff who smell of alcohol are not going to impress.
The key is to develop a clearly thought-out policy. Rather than being something that says ‘if you break the rules you will be punished’, it is important that the benefits of creating a policy are precisely laid out for staff at all levels to see. It should be written in such a way that there can be no misunderstanding, with clear actions to take based on identified circumstances.
And it must be communicated. New employees must be informed upon offer of a contract, and training given as part of the induction programme. More established employees should be consulted during the development of the policy. Few people will object to a policy introduced in the interests of safety and customer service but if you don’t get commitment across all levels of the organisation, it’s unlikely to be successful.
Think about offering guidance or counselling to those employees with a problem. Persistent alcohol misuse can be a health problem and any policy should be used to support employees, not as
a tool to dismiss them. You may think that sacking someone is the simplest option to take but questions will be asked about the extent of training about the policy, the frequency of misuse and the nature of an individual’s previous performance and conduct records.
Our research shows that 71% of organisations offer some form of support internally and 57% refer individuals to occupational health practitioners.
The reasons are simple - employee health and wellbeing must be of paramount concern because your staff are the keys to your customers and because well looked after staff are more likely to remain loyal.
Besides, the negative publicity that will inevitably surround alcohol-related incidents is best avoided for both the individual and the employer.
Consider the wider points of your policy. Just having a piece of paper achieves nothing.
You need to act on it so, in addition to counselling, perhaps introduce random testing or mandatory testing after an incident or accident. It’s important, though, that you don’t give the impression of Big Brother, so encourage a quarterly review of the policy. Asking how well it is working will show your teams that you’re prepared to make changes if necessary.
Remember that the object of a policy should be to drive alcohol, not the people, out of the organisation. But there’s no harm in having a drink. Staff drinks can be a good morale booster - but it’s important that alcohol doesn't affect an employee’s ability to do his or her job.
n Christine Hayhurst is director of professional affairs at the Chartered Management Institute