Dry January is over. I bet you are celebrating with that long-awaited, mouth-watering, very large, glass of white wine. (Let's call it a bottle). But will you face work tomorrow? Call in sick? Or chain-drink coffee to avoid falling asleep at your desk? If only you could book a hangover day...
It is estimated that 4.2 million people in the UK attempted Dry January this year. Sneakily, the official Dry January campaign admits it is designed to ‘reset’ people’s relationship with alcohol. So after the first of February, roughly 4.2 million people across England will be nursing hangovers at work. Hangovers cause a reduction in productivity, nausea, headaches, and often anxiety, so don’t be surprised if the office seems mysteriously quieter this week.
To get ahead of this slump, some UK companies now offer ‘hangover days’ to staff, allowing them to work from home the day after a night-out. These companies claim that it creates a more open relationship between employer and employee, as no one has to lie when calling in sick. Employees can also book hangover days in advance, if they are intending to drink a lot the day before.
However, this raises a lot of questions regarding the wellbeing of staff. Do hangover days encourage employees to binge drink? Is this antithetical to instilling wellbeing in a company, as binge drinking can be mentally and physically harmful? Is this rule unfair to those who choose not to drink, or can’t for medical/religious reasons? Does it create an atmosphere of peer-pressure?
Elaine Hindal, CEO of the charity Drinkaware, argues:
“There should be no place for encouraging risky drinking behaviours in the workplace. Not only can employers play a vital role in setting out messages about the risks of drinking, we also believe they should be alert – and be catering – to diverse workforces. This may include people who don’t drink alcohol. In fact, our research tells us more people this year than last year don’t drink alcohol.
“We recently published a study into the pressures of drinking and the results should chime with bosses – more than half of people in work say they feel there’s too much pressure to drink when socialising with colleagues. We would encourage employers to carefully consider the facts about alcohol along with the health and wellbeing of their employees.”
Excessive alcohol intake is damaging to wellbeing. Popularly named ‘hangxiety,’ hangovers are known to trigger or worsen a person’s anxiety. Drinkaware explains that during a hangover, you experience alcohol withdrawal that causes an imbalance in chemicals in the brain, and can make you feel anxious or depressed. It is a ‘vicious circle,’ as someone who is socially anxious drinks a lot to relax, then as the effects wear off they feel even more anxious, causing them to reach for another drink. Encouraging alcohol consumption could lead to employees developing a dependency, or damaging their wellbeing in general. The consequences of this could mean long-term reduction in productivity.
On the other hand, without 'hangover days,' according to Alcohol Change UK, over 167,000 working days are already lost each year because of alcohol. It is also estimated that lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy over £7 billion annually. So in theory, letting people work from home when they are feeling a bit worse-for-wear could increase productivity, as they are still working when they otherwise would have just taken a lazy day off. Furthermore, flexible working, and the acknowledgement from employers that employees should have a thriving social life, can breed a culture of trust, and prioritising healthy work-life balance. Employers should definitely allocate time for employees to see friends and have a laugh. Perhaps employees will appreciate their jobs and bosses more in the long-run.
Maybe we shouldn't incentivise alcohol consumption, but still acknowledge that employees need social lives. Instead of focusing on implementing ‘hangover days,’ perhaps we should work towards normalising ‘mental health days.’ A 'mental health day,' already in use by many companies in the UK, involves an employee taking a day-off to focus on wellbeing. The de-stressing, resetting effect these days have can boost productivity and prevent further illness. It is vital that companies cultivate a positive approach towards mental wellbeing, without fear of discrimination. Making ‘mental health days’ an accepted, even encouraged, form of sick-leave, could make employees feel comfortable enough to speak openly about wellbeing. As long as employees do not take advantage of 'mental health days,' they could help destigmatize mental health issues.
Each workplace is completely unique, and should use whatever works for them. As long as we are cultivating mental/physical wellbeing, and a positive, accepting culture, there are no rights and wrongs. Just be sensitive to others, aware of your own limits, and try not to book off every Thursday because it’s the day after hump-day cocktails.
By Grace Proctor
(Content Editor, Let's Reset)