A work culture’s attitude toward drinking affects its employees’ drinking habits outside of work, suggests research involving more than 5,300 U.S. workers.
That culture is crucial for changing drinking patterns and preventing alcohol problems, and it should be factored in to public health initiatives, concludes a report published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal.
Findings are based on workers’ anonymous responses to questions about how often, when and where they drank alcohol and about their attitudes on social drinking. They were asked if they thought alcohol boosted workplace morale, was good for business, alleviated boredom, improved their health, was harmful or set a bad example.
The report “confirms the basic notion that social norms in the workplace are a powerful influence … on people’s behavior at work and away from work,” said Ben C. Amick III. Amick, scientific director of the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health and co-author of the study, was with the University of Texas at the time the research was conducted.
Role of Workplace Culture
Workplace-related drinking, he said, is “really not being driven by the old three-martini lunch or anybody’s lunch. It’s really people drinking at various times during the workday or before the workday.”
“At-work” drinking was defined as having consumed beer, wine or liquor during the workday or two hours before going to work; drinking during lunch or a work break; drinking while working; drinking before driving a vehicle on company business; or drinking at a company-sponsored event in the 30 days prior to the study.
The work culture affects how people behave outside of work, researchers found. The rates of heavy, frequent and workplace drinking were significantly lower in organizations that discouraged social drinking than in those that most tolerated it.
Workers in organizations that most discouraged social drinking were 45 percent less likely to be heavy drinkers than those in workplaces with the most relaxed attitudes to drinking. They were 54 percent less likely to be frequent drinkers and 69 percent less likely to drink during the workday.
Nineteen percent considered themselves heavy drinkers outside of work. Heavy drinking among men was defined as consuming five or more drinks in one day in the 30 days prior to the study; for women it was four or more drinks in one day.
Smokers and workers age 35 and younger are most likely to drink.
What Employers Can Do
Employers who think there is a drinking problem in their workplace need to “understand the breadth and scope” of what passes for normal behavior in the workplace.
“This isn’t about what managers think; this is really about norms in the workplace,” and if drinking is the norm in the employer’s culture, “simply providing employees with information is not going to change anything, really.”
Instead, they have to target a cultural change in the norms.
“You hang with who you hang,” and that influences behavior.
Understanding the scope and magnitude of a workplace’s drinking problem can be done through wellness questionnaires, employee assistance program data and employee surveys.
It has to be both a top-down and bottom-up effort led by leaders of the organization. It should include the immediate supervisory level “to get people to understand norms are created and sustained in their [work] groups” and to help workers understand why the desired behavior being touted is important.
In addition, there’s a wellness component to consider; this could be an effective way to engage in disease management.
Employers who want to promote health and prevention programs that will affect what people do outside of work need to link health fairs and similar programs to a more systemic, strategic plan to change norms in the workplace..
Researchers concluded that while “worksite preventive research has focused on health promotion at the individual level, and occupational health research has focused on health protection activities,” the findings suggest “the importance of worksite-based social intervention as broad-based public health campaigns.”