A survey of over 2000 people conducted by Clipp.co indicated that 16% of Australians chuck a sickie the day after Australia Day. Similarly, up to 10% of people surveyed reported calling in sick the morning after Anzac Day and Melbourne Cup day. Greg Taylor CEO of Clipp.co, said he sponsored the survey of 2024 Australians because he knew there was a correlation between nights on the booze, and hangover related absenteeism in the workforce.
A study from the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University reports that in 2013, hangovers cost the Australian economy $3 billion, accounting for 11.5 million sick days. This figure has risen from $1.2 billion in 2001. Each day of alcohol related absenteeism has been estimated to cost on average, $267.70 (one day’s wage, plus 20% employer on-costs, based on average weekly income for 2013).
Of particular interest is the finding that the majority (56.1%) of people surveyed in this study were categorised as ‘low risk’ drinkers (i.e., consumption of 4 or less standard drinks on one occasion). This finding suggests that it is the ‘silent hangover’ that puts most of the strain on the economy, not individuals that drink at high-risk levels. This has been a historical trend with low-risk drinkers reportedly accounting for over half of all alcohol related absenteeism (Pidd et al., 2006).
Furthermore, research shows that 3 out of 4 of moderate drinkers experience a hangover after drinking. Moderate drinking is defined as up to four alcoholic drinks for men, and three for women, on any single day, according to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), and a maximum of 14 drinks for men and 7 drinks for women per week.
In order to reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, the Australian national guidelines for alcohol consumption recommend that healthy men and women drink no more than two standard drinks on any day (Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation). In addition to the obvious detrimental health effects, we know that alcohol can also affect workplace productivity, with people failing to turn up to work due to hangover, or even worse, presenting for duty and being unable to perform to the best of their ability.
Ninety (90) percent of the Australian workforce has been estimated to consume alcohol (VicHealth, 2012). The majority of drinking is reported to occur at the end of the working day, or on rostered days off. Workplace safety, however, can be impacted, by staff with alcohol-induced hangovers who are unable to perform at an optimal level (i.e., as a result of impaired co-ordination, slow reaction times, and poor judgement).
According to the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 1/10 workers report that they have been affected by a co-worker’s misuse of alcohol (Dale et al., 2010). Specific impacts include: poor job performance, accidents or near misses in the workplace, as well as having to work over time to cover for a co-worker. Julie Rae, Head of Information and Research at the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation reported that co-workers even state that they don’t want to work with some people as a result of alcohol consumption or turning up to work with a hangover (Alcohol a major hangover for Australian workplaces. Australian HR Institute).
What has been done to address this problem?
We know that alcohol is a global problem. Much has been done to investigate the effects of alcohol consumption on our health and well-being, including workplace performance the day after alcohol consumption. You only have to search alcohol and health in Google to see a wealth of reports from government bodies and health organisations that offer health warnings and recommendations for safe alcohol consumption. Despite these reports, very little is being done at a community level to action these recommendations, or to provide real solutions which aim to reduce alcohol related absenteeism. It is time to take action and to address alcohol related issues in society, with an emphasis on providing innovations that reduce lost productivity, and encourage responsible drinking.
In brief, consumers are not aware of how much alcohol they are actually drinking. In addition, most people are unaware of safe drinking guidelines relative to their gender or country of origin. Individuals also tend to be unaware of how much alcohol their body can metabolise per hour, or how long it would take to clear out of their system, and for them to return to a fully sober state. People just wing it, and suffer the consequences the next day- either with a sore head, or with reduced workplace performance.
How can we help?
By making people personally aware of the negative effects alcohol can have, and by providing real solutions to remedy or avouid these effects, we can begin to actively educate society on what to drink and how to drink responsibly, and limit the impact of alcohol consumption on our ability to fully participate in our life roles. Through personalised education, including the proper labelling of alcoholic products (i.e., highlighting the individual effects of products relative to body size and gender), and the development of drink tracking applications (e.g., drink smart app), consumers can be more accurately informed about issues such as the time it takes for alcohol consumed to clear out of the body (e.g., a 65kg woman who drinks 2 standard glasses of wine between 7- 7.30pm, can expect to be sober by approximately 1am). Such innovations may support consumers to make better choices in maintaining safe drinking levels, and to maximise next day productivity. The use of drink tracking apps may encourage consumers to pace their drinking behaviour, or to choose lighter alcoholic options. These innovations endorse a prevention is better than cure philosophy.
In addition to these life- logging technologies, scientifically developed and clinically proven medicines which can support the body to process alcohol more efficiently, also have a place in this preventative approach. The market is saturated with hangover remedies that are used when symptoms are in full swing, and a day off work after a big night is needed to recover. Most of these so-called remedies also contain rare herbs from exotic places that have no scientific backing.
You don’t have to drink to excess to feel off your A-game the next day. Even a couple of quite glasses tonight can leave you feeling tired and sluggish tomorrow morning. If you want to indulge a little, make sure that you are at your best the next day- no-one wants to be treated by a tired doctor or driven by a taxi driver who is suffering the effects of the night before. Let’s look after ourselves and each other – drink smart and stay covered.
Dale, C. & Livingston, M. (2010) The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace, Medical Journal of Australia, 193(3), 138-140.Roche,
A., Pidd, K., and Kostadinov, V. (2016). Alcohol- and drug-related absenteeism: A costly problem. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 40 (3), 236-238.
Pidd, K.J., Berry, G., Roche, A., Harrison, J.E. (2006). Estimating the cost of alcohol-related absenteeism in the Australian workforce: The importance of consumption patterns. Medical Journal of Australia, 185 (11), 637-641.
VicHealth 2012, Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report), Victorian Heath Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.