There are individual differences when it comes to how our bodies break down and are damaged by alcohol. A level of alcohol consumption that is harmless for one person could therefore be harmful for someone else.
Facts about alcohol
The number of Danes who consume more alcohol than the Danish Health and Medicine Authority's low risk limit has fallen a little the past couple of years, nevertheless the figure remains 20.6 %. 8.5 % of Danes exceed the high-risk limit.Heavy drinking increases the risk for a long range of diseases:
- Gastro-intestinal diseases
- Pulmonary diseases
- Liver diseases
- Muscular and skeletal diseases
- Genital diseases
- Raised blood pressure
- Foetal problems during pregnancy
- A long list of social and psychological consequences
There are at least 3,000 deaths annually that have alcohol as either the primary or secondary cause.
The Danish Health and Medicine Authority's seven messages about alcohol
- There is no risk free level of alcohol consumption.
- Do not drink alcohol for the sake of your health.
- You have a low risk of illness if your alcohol consumption per week is 7 units for a woman and 14 units for a man.
- You have a large risk of illness due to alcohol if you drink more than 14/21 units a week.
- Keep within 5 units on any one occasion.
- Avoid alcohol if you are pregnant.
- Avoid alcohol if you are trying to conceive, as a precaution.
- If you are elderly, be especially careful with alcohol.
On this site, we offer advice on alcohol problems and alcohol policies in the workplace. The advice is based on information from the Danish Health and Medicines Authority.
Talking about alcohol
Alcohol abuse is often a subject of taboo at work, but there is good reason to take up the subject. Because it hurts to see a good colleague suffer a crisis caused by alcohol problems - and it is a costly affair, both for the employee with the problem, the affected colleagues, the company, the family and for society.
It is important to observe that it is not necessary for the workplace to know the underlying personal causes when an employee has an alcohol problem. However, it is the job of the workplace to contribute to a solution by supporting the employee in seeking treatment.
Typical signs of alcohol problems
- A breath that smells of alcohol. There are often attempts to hide the scent with mints or chewing gum.
- Many mistakes and accidents. Often needs the help and support of others.
- Less stable attendance - especially on Mondays and Fridays.
- Over time, periods of absence that become longer and more frequent.
- Irritability, vulnerability and defiance. A tendency to isolation.
- Suspicion towards colleagues and managers.
- Family problems, often resulting in a divorce.
- Financial problems, advances on salary.
- Excessive care with looks (applies mostly to women).
- Substandard appearance and hygiene (applies mostly to men).
In order to deal with the alcohol problem as early as possible, it is a good idea to have a well-functioning alcohol policy in place.An important purpose of the alcohol policy is to ensure that all employees feel a co-responsibility for not allowing an alcohol-problem to develop in secret.
An effort against alcohol at the workplace creates good results
An effort against alcohol problems in the workplace has a good chance of creating good results:
- 63% of employees carry through with alcohol abuse therapy when referred by their workplace.
- 19% carry through their alcohol treatment when referred by for example the emergency room or hospital.
It thus appears that workplaces are particularly good at motivating persons with alcohol problems to carry through with their treatment.
Source: The Danish Health and Medicines Authority
The conversation about alcohol (for the manager)
- Remember that the conversation should never solely be based on second-hand information.
- Be prepared to conduct a follow-up interview.
- Find a relevant time and an undisturbed location for the conversation, and limit the duration of the conversation to ca. 1 hour.
- The purpose of the conversation will partly be to focus on the consequences of the alcohol problem on the employee's work performance, and partly to offer help by offering an alternative treatment location.
63% of employees carry through with alcohol abuse therapy when referred by their workplace.
Advice for the conversation
It is important for you as a leader to be mindful that the conversation does not turn into a cross-examination, and that you have prepared carefully for the conversation in advance. The conversation can easily become highly emotional, as the topic is a very sensitive one.
Therefore, you should be prepared to meet a wall of defence-mechanisms, with the employee being likely to deny the problem's existence and scope. To overcome these defence mechanisms as well as possible, it is important to be as specific as possible during the actual conversation.
Therefore, it is important that you can document what you say - both in relation to the general signals of dissatisfaction and the specific signals of the alcohol problem, for example by being able to document the statistics of sickness absence.
The Danish Health and Medicines Authority has prepared the following questions which you can use to prepare for the interview.
- Should you or someone else undertake the conversation, and should the conversation perhaps be carried out by several persons?
What is the level of confidence in you as a key figure? Has the conversation been conducted before, and if yes, with whom, and what was the outcome? If the employee requests it, or if the situation calls for it, the employee representative or another observer should attend the meeting.
Experience shows that it could prove beneficial to have both the direct leader and another key person take part in the conversation.
- What are the indicators?
That is to say, what failings in work performance have you noticed? The examples can be documented by date, time and a precise description of the failings.
- What are the consequences of the alcohol problem for you, your colleagues and the workplace in general?
- How have the person's resources changed as a result of exaggerated alcohol consumption?
Before he/she ... now I experience ...
- What help can you offer according to the company's alcohol policy?
You should know the alcohol policy in advance and know which therapeutic options you can refer to, and when they are available.
- What would be the implications if the problem is denied?
Possible sanctions for continued failings in work performance.
- Inform that the conversation is a provision of care. Describe all the employee's good sides that you have seen change or disappear.