Millions gone in one fell sip

by 09 Dec 2011

Colleague 1: “Maaaate. Big one last night. Feelin’ it today, I tell ya what!”

Colleague 2: “Too right mate! (laughs) I’m suffering, (nods) I’m suffering.”

Sound like familiar lift and coffee room banter? While workers the world over give themselves a pat on the back for showing up to work, the hangover conversation is costing Australian organisations a whopping $430m in lost annual productivity.

The Annals of Medicine journal noted in its report The Alcohol Hangover, “In the workplace, the greatest cost incurred by alcohol is the decreased productivity of affected employees as a result of hangover-related absenteeism and poor job performance.”

Although a hangover might be considered trivial—just deserts for the overindulgent—it has substantial economic consequences. A 2006 Flinders University study which looked at more than 13,500 Australian workers found the extent and cost of alcohol-related absenteeism and presenteeism is far greater than previously thought.

According to the figures, published in Medical Journal of Australia, more than 2.5 million work days are lost to hangovers each year, at a cost of more than $430m.

Interestingly the researchers found that it’s not the consistently heavy drinkers causing the drain, but the light to infrequent drinkers.

The study found more than half of all alcohol-related sick leave is taken by low-risk, infrequent drinkers.

Donna Bull from the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia told ABC that there are aspects of alcohol abuse by Australian workers that are difficult to measure.

“People might have returned to a very low BAC or a BAC of 0.00, but for some hours after that, their reaction time is still slow, their coordination is impaired and so on,” Bull said.

Researchers found that hangovers could be more insidious than actual inebriation due to diminished cognitive abilities, concentration and technical skills, and noted “With inebriation, you're at least more aware of it – perhaps more than with a hangover.”

Bull said organisations need to have visible policies in place, and commented “So, first of all have policies that articulate very clearly, so that people know what's expected of them in the workplace, what's acceptable in terms of alcohol use. Is it okay to go out and have boozy lunches, or is it not okay.”

The bottom line?

‘Sound guidance’ may be all organisations can really do. HC suggests the workday hangover is here to stay.

Those dry Martinis did the work for me:

Last night at twelve I felt immense,

Today I feel like thirty cents.

My eyes are blurred, my coppers hot,

I'll try to eat, but I cannot.

It is no time for mirth and laughter,

The cold, gray dawn of the morning after.

- George Ade, The Sultan of Sulu, 1903

-Stephanie Zillman


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