How Drinking Harms On-the-Job Efficiency for the First Time, Study Finds That Social Drinkers - Not Alcoholics - Are a Bigger Drain on Productivity

By Alexandra Marks, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 1998 | Go to article overview

How Drinking Harms On-the-Job Efficiency for the First Time, Study Finds That Social Drinkers - Not Alcoholics - Are a Bigger Drain on Productivity


Alexandra Marks, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Joan Betty was just a social drinker. But both her parents were alcoholics. After her mother died, Ms. Betty decided it was time to reassess what drinking was doing to her, at home and at work. She didn't like what she found.

"After a night of even mild drinking, I wouldn't sleep as well, so I would be overly tired at work," says Betty, a successful prosecutor who asked that her real name not be used. "I just wasn't up to par,

wasn't as productive." Betty's experience is not unique. Millions of social drinkers across the United States know well that sinking feeling of waking up tired, irritable, and dragging into the office, often late. For the first time, researchers have documented that it is these social drinkers - not the hard-core alcoholics or problem drinkers - who are responsible for most of the estimated $67 billion worth of lost productivity that's attributed each year to alcohol-related problems. The implications are expected to transform corporate drinking policies across the country. Most now focus strictly on people with serious alcohol problems. As a result of this study, researchers say, they should start educating every worker about the negative "stealth effects" of even low levels of drinking at work, and any heavy drinking off the job. "For the first time, it specifically ties the hangover issue to production in the workplace," says Robert Stutman, chairman of Employee Information Services, a corporate drug and alcohol consulting company in Coral Springs, Fla. "It really asks the question: Does the employer have the right to deal with the private life of the employee concerning alcohol use - the way we do with drug testing?" Mr. Stutman's company advises more than 600 corporations across the country on their drug and alcohol policies. He plans to contact each one and discuss possible changes as a result of the findings. Results and methodology Marianne Lee of JSI Research and Training Institute in Boston, one of the study's authors, says: "The key point of this study is to send a message to employees, not that we are going to fire you or discipline you for your behavior. But that you ought to think about how much you're drinking the night before a busy day." Conducted over four years at seven Fortune 500 companies by JSI and researchers from the Harvard and Boston University Schools of Health, the study also found that 80 percent of the drinking that took place during the workday, took place at lunch. The study found that even a glass of wine or a beer with a burger impaired worker productivity. Counter to popular wisdom, the study also found that it was managers, not hourly employees, who were most often drinking during the workday. …

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