As many as 89,000 people may be turning up to work hungover or under the influence of alcohol every day, costing the economy up to £1.4 billion a year, according to new research from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS).

The survey of 3,400 workers for a report by the IAS, found 42% of workers had ever been to work hungover or intoxicated, and 9% had done so in the past six months.

The research also found that working hungover or intoxicated was most common in the hospitality and leisure, retail and construction sectors.

Higher earners were more likely to have gone to work hungover or under the influence; 29% of people earning under £10,000 a year had ever done so, compared to 55% of people earning over £60,000.

Respondents to the survey also reported being affected by others’ drinking at work: 36% suspected that one or more of their colleagues had been hungover or intoxicated in the last six months, reporting reduced productivity, greater stress and a negative effect on team morale.

On average, respondents believed themselves to be 39% less effective when they were drunk or hungover. Based on average labour costs, and how frequently people are impaired at work, this implies a cost to the UK economy of between £1.2 billion and £1.4 billion a year.

Suzannah Robin, Training Director at AlcoDigital, said:

“The findings from this study are not surprising. Over the last 15 years AlcoDigital have worked with many companies assisting them in managing the impact of alcohol in the workplace, helping them develop drug and alcohol policies to deal with the impact of loss of productivity and safety issues arising from excessive alcohol consumption.”

“While the report clearly demonstrates that daily testing dramatically reduces the number of employees at work while under the influence, historically testing on this scale has proven difficult and costly to implement due to the need for company personnel to undertake the screening process manually.”

From July this year however, we have a solution to this problem with WorkSober – an automated breathalyser with integrated facial recognition able to check each and every worker in a matter of seconds, prior to entry into the workplace, with no supervision required. While new to the UK, already over 180 companies worldwide have installed the system, with over 50,000 employees being checked on a daily basis.

Daily testing benefits not only the company, but also improves the health of their workers by highlighting the dangers of excessive alcohol use. UK companies interested in trialling the new WorkSober system should contact us.

On average, respondents believed themselves to be 39% less effective when they were drunk or hungover

These findings suggest that the UK Government currently underestimates the cost of alcohol to the British economy by almost 20%. The government’s official analysis excludes the impact of working intoxicated or hungover due to a lack of robust data on the issue. The new IAS figures suggest that the government’s estimate of the economic costs of alcohol should rise from £7.3 billion to £8.7 billion.

Aveek Bhattacharya, policy analyst at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and the author of the report said:

‘Discussions of the economic impact of alcohol tend to focus on employment in the alcohol industry. Yet alcohol is also a drag on the economy, taking people out of the workforce through sickness, unemployment and premature death. Even among those drinking at less harmful levels, working through intoxication and hangovers can reduce productivity. Prior to this survey, we did not have a clear idea of how widespread and costly drunkenness and hangovers at work are. These findings should encourage the Government to revise its official estimates of the cost of alcohol to society, which are now woefully out of date.

‘Hopefully, these results will help shift the conversation on alcohol and the economy. Policies to reduce harmful drinking, such as raising alcohol taxes and minimum unit pricing, are often resisted on the basis that they are “bad for business”. Yet our research suggests that these measures will lead to a more productive workforce – and that we will feel the benefits in our pockets.’

Dr Sally Adams, assistant professor in Health Psychology at the University of Bath, and an expert adviser to the project, said:

‘Hangover is the most commonly reported negative consequence of alcohol use with significant health and economic implications. Whilst previous research has estimated the costs associated with hangover-related absenteeism in the workplace, the cost of reduced productivity of being hungover “on the job” has not been explored.

‘This new research from IAS reveals the true economic costs of alcohol hangover in the workplace, with evidence of hangover “Presenteeism” and associated impairments in productivity and team morale as reported by individuals and their colleagues.

‘These results also complement our research on the cognitive effects of hangover, which suggests that processes such as attention, co-ordination and memory required in workplace are compromised during hangover. Together these findings indicate that the effects of hangover in the workplace have been underestimated and require greater attention from employers and policy makers.’

To find about more about alcohol policies at work and testing for alcohol in the workplace, sign-up to our free 10 Step Guide to Drug and Alcohol Policy.