Alcohol Awareness Week – Are you prepared?

It’s almost the office party season… a joy or a headache for your average manager?

Where alcohol is involved, there’s hopefully a safe and seasonal celebration for everyone, however this time of year can be fraught with difficulties; and managers are often in the firing line. Employees may drink too much and return to work intoxicated. People may be stressed and drink after work, affecting performance the next day.

The role of managers

Managers have two balancing roles to play here –supporting employees who may be alcohol dependent, as well as ensuring the workplace remains a safe place to work for everyone.

There is a difference between an employee who requests time off to deal with an acknowledged (and medically recognised) alcohol dependency and an employee who denies drinking in spite of obvious signs of intoxication while at work.

Possible signs of work problems associated with excessive drinking

  • Increased absenteeism, such as, unexcused absences, repeated short absences, abnormally high absences for minor illnesses or excessive tardiness
  • “On the job” absenteeism, such as continued absence from desk/work station
  • Concentration and confusion problems, such as jobs and projects taking longer or increasing difficulties in handling and completing assignments
  • Lowered job efficiency or friction with other employees/customers
  • Unusual behaviour, such as temper tantrums, emotional outbursts
  • Attending for work smelling of alcohol / Signs of intoxication such as slurred speech

However – these signs may also be symptomatic of stress, depression or other mental wellbeing issue – managers can only link these to alcohol issues if there are also obvious signs of intoxication.

Drinking at this time of year

Organisations do need to be careful that office parties do not become an excuse for poor behaviour – and that employees are not expected to return to work after drinking at the office party.

Where managers have concerns about alcohol use, which is impacting on performance they should try and meet immediately with the individual to check if the incident is a one-off at this time of year, or if there is a longer-term alcohol issue which needs to be resolved.

Dealing with on-going / longer term concerns about alcohol and work

When meeting with employees following concerns around drinking, the starting point is state sensitively what’s been noticed and ask if alcohol may be a factor. If so, is this a one-off incident, or part of a longer-term issue?

Managers should reassure employees that they are here to help and if the drinking is part of an on-going problem, then support is available. They should provide information and advice about the support options to employees as well as any assistance provided for taking time off to seek counselling or treatment if needed.

Managers should follow the Do’s and Don’ts below:


1)    Reassure the employee that generally speaking this conversation is confidential and that your first interest is in supporting them to overcome any difficulties they have

2)    Talk empathically and openly – ask open-ended questions and try and listen without judgment

3)    Ask the employee if they have sought any support or advice through their GP or other professionals

4)    (If the employee has approached you proactively): Provide positive feedback for this step and state that the organisation will support the employee; and where recommended, allow reasonable time off to get help

5)    Ask the employee what support they are aware of and let them know about both the internal and external avenues of support available

6)    Make a plan with the employee to talk again once they’ve decided what action they wish to take


1)      Offer a subjective opinion or a medical diagnosis (unless you are medically qualified to do so)

2)      Divulge or share personal information to make an individual feel better

3)      Be tempted to become a pseudo counsellor or therapist

 Dealing with one–off incidents of intoxication

Managers should consider sending any employee home if they believe the individual to be intoxicated, especially in roles where there is a high risk of injury or harm. You may need to call a taxi to ensure they get home safely and confiscate any car keys.

Make a note of this and ask to speak to the employee the next day – you can then decide what action to take.

GOOD LUCK and plan ahead!

Alcohol Health Network is launching its Drink Checker website for all employees on November 16th (Alcohol Awareness Week) to support alcohol awareness in the workplace.

Drink Checker helps raise alcohol awareness at work and is freely available between November 16th and December 18th.

Alcohol Health Network also provides policy advice and training for line managers as well as health stalls and materials.



Don Shenker

Alcohol dependency counsellor, NICE policy advisor and alcohol harm reduction expert of over 20 years. Founder of the Alcohol Health Network and formerly CEO of Alcohol Concern.