Alcohol Awareness Week, taking place from 1 to 7 July 2024, presents a vital opportunity for employers to address alcohol-related issues among their workforce.

Challenges for overseas employees

According to Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection,

Alcohol and its misuse can be a big issue for overseas employees in particular, and awareness of the added pressures they can face is an important starting point for employers as it will help them to provide the right kinds of support.

Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection

Employees working overseas often face unique pressures that may lead to increased alcohol consumption. These pressures can include social isolation, cultural integration challenges, and the stress of adjusting to a new environment. In many cultures, social drinking is deeply embedded, such as the practice of ‘nomikai’ in Japan, where after-work drinking parties are common.

Concerning trends highlighted by Towergate

Alcohol is more accessible and affordable in certain regions, which can exacerbate the problem. For instance, the cost of alcohol in countries like China, Belarus, and Colombia is significantly lower than in places like London. Furthermore, regions that previously had strict bans on alcohol, such as Saudi Arabia, are now loosening these restrictions, increasing accessibility.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that alcohol consumption contributes to three million deaths each year globally, and is the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49. Alcohol is classified as a Group One carcinogen, meaning it is known to cause cancer.

Sarah explains:

Global employers need to be aware of the potential impact on medical claims for alcohol-related diseases or where alcohol may exacerbate other conditions: it’s good business practice to provide support, and important to regularly check in with colleagues.

Insights from RedArc

Christine Husbands, commercial director at RedArc, highlights another dimension of the issue: underreporting of alcohol abuse.

We have found that people drink because of many issues, and it takes time for people to open up about it. Once they do, we’re able to help them deal with the main cause, as well as the secondary issue of drinking.

Christine Husbands, commercial director at RedArc

RedArc notes that many professionals, particularly those in high-stress roles, may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, often masking their addiction for fear of losing credibility or their job. The shift to hybrid working models has also made it easier for employees to hide their alcohol dependence.

Financial strain, exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis, is another significant factor linked to excessive drinking. Alcoholism can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or income, and often requires long-term support from clinically trained experts to address both the primary and secondary issues.

Tips and advice for employers

To effectively support employees during Alcohol Awareness Week and beyond, employers should consider the following steps:

  1. Implement Comprehensive Health and Wellbeing Programs: Provide access to healthcare professionals, both virtually and face-to-face, and ensure that global employee assistance programs (EAPs) are in place.
  2. Regular Check-ins: Maintain regular contact with overseas employees to monitor their wellbeing and address any emerging issues early.
  3. Offer Long-term Support: Encourage the development of therapeutic relationships between employees and trusted third parties. This can help individuals feel safe and supported, making it easier for them to disclose and address their alcohol dependence.
  4. Promote Awareness and Education: Use Alcohol Awareness Week to educate employees about the risks associated with alcohol misuse and the support available to them.
  5. Extend Support to Families: Recognise that alcoholism affects not just the individual but also their families. Provide support and resources to help family members cope with the impact of alcoholism.

Christine Husbands concludes,

Reaching for the odd drink to try and de-stress is not unusual but if this becomes the norm rather than the exception, then there may be other issues at stake. Ensuring the right support is available is crucial in tackling the underlying cause as well as the substance misuse itself.

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.