As we approach the end of Alcohol Awareness Week, it is an opportune moment to reflect on alcohol use and its impact on the workplace. This week encourages us to consider how we can foster healthier environments and support those who may be struggling with alcohol-related issues.

In this context, the editor of Workplace Wellbeing Professional, Joanne Swann, was delighted to sit down with Janet Hadley, the founder and managing director of Choose Sunrise Limited, an organisation dedicated to providing support for those dealing with alcohol use.

Janet Hadley: Advocate for alcohol awareness and support

Janet Hadley established her organisation on the principle that no one should feel afraid to seek help with alcohol use. In 2020, after experiencing a series of traumatic events, Janet found her own alcohol consumption escalating. She recognised a significant problem but felt too embarrassed to ask for help, fearing the stigma associated with being labelled an alcoholic.

Janet emphasises the importance of acknowledging the “grey area” between normal drinking and alcoholism. She believes that many individuals fall into this category and need support before their situation escalates. According to Janet, addressing alcohol use early, even if it involves taking a temporary break or gaining a better understanding of one’s relationship with alcohol, can prevent significant harm. Her mission with Choose Sunrise is to destigmatise seeking help and provide early intervention to promote healthier lives and workplaces.

Can you describe some common signs of alcohol misuse in employees that employers should be aware of?

There are the classic signs that people will already know about, such as the very obvious smell of alcohol, looking unkempt, and neglecting personal appearance, along with mood swings. However, there are more subtle signs that managers who know their teams well can spot. For example, a red flag is being the person who is always the most intoxicated on a work night out, which was me for years. Another indicator is someone frequently saying, “I need a drink” towards the end of the day or week. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the person has a problem with alcohol, it is important for managers to understand whether that individual has other coping mechanisms or relies solely on alcohol to destress.

Additionally, there are other signs, such as patterns in expenses, gifting, and rewards. Team members who often buy drinks for everyone, gift bottles of wine, or spend heavily on alcohol through their expenses are displaying common red flags that employers often miss. People tend to give gifts they would like to receive, and this behaviour can indicate their relationship with alcohol.

What are some effective strategies or programmes that you recommend for creating an alcohol safe workplace?

We have four key strands to the work that we do. The first is policy. Having an effective policy doesn’t mean banning alcohol; it means being clear about the rules. Employers need to specify what is and isn’t acceptable, including guidelines on claiming alcohol on expenses. My own alcohol issues were facilitated by employers who provided free alcohol without question. Addressing things like free bars and alcohol as a reward in the workplace is crucial. It’s also essential to have a policy that ensures confidentiality and support for anyone disclosing concerns about their alcohol use. Most organisational alcohol policies focus only on disciplinary actions, creating an environment where people feel they must hide their issues.

The second strand is culture. One of my favourite activities is discussing alcohol use at the board level, encouraging leaders to rethink rewards without alcohol. In the UK, we often associate alcohol with rewards, but if we rewarded employees with cocaine or cigarettes, there would be outrage. Alcohol is also a carcinogenic, addictive substance. Decoupling alcohol from corporate rewards helps foster healthier relationships with alcohol. This realisation often hits home when companies recognise they’ve been sending champagne to employees and clients, who may be Muslim, pregnant, or in recovery.

Education is the third strand. Educating the entire workforce about alcohol, how it works, and its effects is vital. People know it’s harmful, but understanding how tolerance develops, how alcohol disrupts sleep, and its link to anxiety makes the information more relatable than simply stating it can cause cancer. This education helps shift perceptions about alcohol.

The fourth strand is support for individuals. It’s crucial to have proper support in place for anyone seeking help. When I sought help through the Employee Assistance Programme, I requested funding to see an alcohol specialist counsellor but was told they only offered general counselling. The general counsellor I saw dismissed my concerns and shared her higher alcohol consumption, which led me to continue drinking for another six months until I funded my own alcohol counselling. I’m passionate about ensuring others don’t have this experience. People struggling with alcohol need access to specialised support, not just general therapy.

How can employers foster an environment where employees feel safe and supported when seeking help for alcohol misuse?

We run an organisation called the Sober Curious Society, a workplace support group where anyone can come and listen. We interview individuals about their relationship with alcohol, often featuring guest speakers such as authors, podcasters, or people from outside the organisation who share their stories. These stories usually conclude with the individual becoming sober, but sometimes they become moderate drinkers. Occasionally, a group member will share their own story. This approach gradually creates a safer environment for more people to share their experiences. This has proven to be the most effective strategy I’ve seen within an employer setting. The impact is evident in the moving emails and face-to-face testimonials I’ve received from people who have reached out to express how much it has helped them.

Just as you might have a women’s support network or an LGBTQ+ support network, having a sober curious society in the workplace can make a significant difference. It doesn’t matter whether you hire someone to facilitate it or set it up on your own; what matters is making a difference. You can have a consultant start the process, and then someone within the organisation can take over, which works just as well.

Could you share some success stories or examples of how coaching and support have helped individuals achieve their alcohol-free goals and improve their work performance?

I’d like to share the story of Mark, a young father and busy professional who credits our programme with saving his life. Mark’s drinking was escalating and getting out of control. Although he didn’t think he was an alcoholic, he knew something wasn’t right. He attended our Sober Curious Society meetings, initially just listening, then gradually started using some of the suggested resources. Mark has now been sober for two years.

When he shared his testimonial, he was approaching one year of sobriety. He spoke about the significant improvements in his life: his relationship with his wife has improved, his focus at work has sharpened, his anxiety has decreased, and he feels he’s a better father. Mark believes that without addressing his drinking, his marriage would have been in jeopardy.

For those interested in hearing Mark’s full testimonial, please follow the link here: Testimonial for the Sober Curious Society – Mark

Resources and information

For more information on Alcohol Awareness Week and support, visit the following links:

Joanne Swann, Content Manager, WorkWellPro
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.