Workplace drinking culture can curb alcohol consumption

May 24, 2007 (Toronto, ON) – If social drinking is frowned upon at your workplace, chances are you are less likely to consume alcohol both on and off the job, suggests a new study co-authored by a scientist from the Institute for Work & Health.

We found that employees at companies that most discouraged social drinking were 45 per cent less likely to be heavy drinkers than those in workplaces with the most liberal attitudes to drinking, after taking into account other factors that influence drinking levels, says Dr. Benjamin C. Amick III, co-author and the Institute’s Scientific Director. Heavy drinking was defined as having five or more drinks a day outside of work.

The study is published online, in advance of the print version, in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The findings are based on surveys of over 5,000 employees in 16 different organizations in the U.S. They represented a range of different sectors. Employees were surveyed on their drinking behaviours as well as their attitudes towards drinking.

They were asked how often they drank alcohol, and when and where they did so. They also answered questions about their attitudes to social drinking. These included questions such as whether they thought drinking with colleagues after work boosted workplace morale, if drinking with clients was good for business and whether drinking eased boredom at work, improved their health, led to drinking problems or set a bad example.

Supervisors and managers, representing 137 workgroups, were asked about the drinking culture in their workgroups.

The researchers found that those less likely to drink were women, people with strong religious beliefs, and those who cohabited. Smokers and workers under the age of 35 were more likely to drink.

Around one in five (19 per cent) workers was classified as a heavy drinker. A further 8 per cent were considered frequent drinkers who had some alcohol on five or more days of the week outside of work. Eleven per cent of workers were considered to have been drinking at work, which included drinks with clients or customers or at social events at work.

Rates of heavy, frequent and workplace drinking were significantly lower in companies that discouraged social drinking than in those that were most tolerant of it. Workers at these companies were 54 per cent less likely to be frequent drinkers and 69 per cent less likely to drink during the working day.

The researchers concluded that workplace drinking culture is crucial for changing drinking behaviours and public health efforts to reduce drinking-related problems should target workplaces. The research team also included scientists from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, Texas; the International Institute for Society and Health at University College, London, U.K.; and John Snow Inc. Research and Training Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that aims to protect and improve the health of working people. Recognized as one of the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world, the Institute provides practical and relevant findings on the prevention of work injury and disability to policy-makers, workers, employers, clinicians, and health, safety and disability management professionals.

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Cindy Moser 
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Institute for Work & Health
416-927-2027, ext. 2183

Uyen Vu
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Institute for Work & Health