Furloughed workers drinking the most during lockdown, study reveals

15 May 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

Employers urged to keep lines of communication open with staff, as charity warns of ‘risky or dangerous’ alcohol consumption

More than a third of furloughed workers are now drinking more alcohol than they used to, research has found, with employers urged to ensure temporarily laid off staff don’t become disconnected.

A poll of workers by charity Drinkaware found that 36 per cent of furloughed workers have increased their alcohol consumption since the UK went into lockdown, compared to a nationwide average of 24 per cent.

The number of people working from home reporting increased consumption was also found to be higher than the UK average (26 per cent), although not as dramatically as among furloughed workers.

With the job retention scheme recently extended until October, Drinkaware has warned that thousands of workers could emerge from lockdown with “risky or even dangerous” drinking habits. It has urged employers to take action to support staff wellbeing. 

Dr Jill Miller, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the coronavirus outbreak was creating “significant changes” to employees’ lives, and many people no longer had their usual work routines. She said employers should make sure line managers were trained to and felt “capable and confident” in supporting their team member’s wellbeing during lockdown.

“They should have regular catch-ups with their staff, asking open-ended questions to genuinely enquire about an individual’s wellbeing,” said Miller. “Keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging employees to ask for support if they are struggling is essential, as is signposting to available support such as employee assistance programmes and information on healthy lifestyles.”

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Miller added that employers should clearly communicate the health and wellbeing support available to employees, “not forgetting those currently on furlough”. 

The research, conducted by Opinium on behalf of Drinkaware, surveyed 2,001 UK adults. It found that, of workers who did drink alcohol, more than a quarter (28 per cent) of those on furlough said that since lockdown had begun they were drinking on days they wouldn’t usually. 

It also found that one in seven (15 per cent) drinkers on furlough have had their first drink earlier in the day since the start of lockdown. A similar proportion of those working from home reported this (14 per cent).

Worryingly, one in 10 (9 per cent) furloughed drinkers said they’d had a drink in secret or covered up the fact they were consuming alcohol since lockdown began. This was almost double both the UK average and the number of those working from home reporting this (both 5 per cent).

Helen Hayward, HR consultant at Defuse HR, said tackling the issue of excessive drinking normally, for employers, involved a “hard conversation based on someone smelling of it or seeming a bit slurred”. But lockdown provided an opportunity for HR and line managers to show their compassionate side and build connections, she said: “Find ways to empower people to be resilient in other ways, such as sending furloughed employees communications and wellbeing resources.”

Drinkaware chief executive Elaine Hindal warned habits such as drinking earlier in the day and secretive drinking could develop into alcohol dependency. She said employers needed to take every opportunity to ensure staff on furlough didn’t become disconnected.

“It's essential that employers explore, in a supportive and non-judgemental way, how furloughed workers and those working from home are coping. [They should] assess the support those workers may need to protect their mental wellbeing and maintain positive, healthy lifestyle behaviours that prepare them well to return to work when the time comes,” she said.  

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