The hidden cost of employee drinking:A quantitative analysis, which was published in Drug and Alcohol Review today, found that New Zealand employees who either missed a day of work after drinking or turned up with a hangover were costing about $1.65 billion a year in lost productivity. 

Lead author Dr Trudy Sullivan, of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago. Photo/Supplied

The study, done by the University of Otago, concluded that those who turned up to work with reduced performance (presenteeism) actually cost more than those who took a day off (absenteeism).

Lead author Dr Trudy Sullivan, of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, said the research showed the unexpected hidden costs of alcohol-affected employees turning up to work but being much less effective at carrying out their duties.

“The hidden bit is the presenteeism, this is four times the cost of absenteeism,” she said.

“You notice if people don’t turn up to work, but it’s much harder to spot when people aren’t working to their full ability because they are hungover, for example.”

Presenteeism encompasses many factors—reduced output and quality of work, job errors, injury, the negative effect on co-workers, inefficient use of resources, and damaged property.

“I hope this research encourages people to think about the consequences, what it means for themselves, their coworkers and their employers.”

Businesses could start by redeveloping their own policies, reducing workplace stress and advocating healthy lifestyles while also making people aware of the effects of employee drinking, Sullivan said.

Co-author Dr Fiona Edgar, of the Department of Management, said a multifaceted approach needed to be taken to reduce the costs of lost productivity.

“It’s not about targeting individuals – research in this area suggests change needs to occur both at the workplace and societal levels.

“People spend so much of their time at work that makes it a good place to introduce programmes aimed, for example, at promoting a healthy lifestyle.

“We see initiatives which are aimed at tackling some of the main drivers, such as stress as a good starting point,” she said.

The research was based on an online survey completed by 800 New Zealand employees and 227 employers across a range of industries.

The costs of lost productivity directly attributable to alcohol use were estimated using days off work (absenteeism), lost hours of productive time while at work (presenteeism) and hours spent by employers dealing with alcohol-related issues.

The estimated annual average cost of lost productivity per employee was NZ$1097.71 (NZ$209.62 absenteeism, NZ$888.09 presenteeism) and NZ$134.62 per employer (dealing with the consequences of an employee’s drinking). At a population level this equates to approximately NZ$1.65 billion per year. 

Being male, under 25, having a stressful job or binge drinking were all linked to lower performance at work.

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