Who Drinks More During the Workday? The Answer May Surprise You

    • March 31, 2000

A team led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health sought to identify modifiable factors in workplaces that could affect alcohol problems.

Seven Fortune 500 companies with 114 worksites participated in the study. Investigators collected data through extensive in-person interviews, surveys, and focus groups of senior executives, managers, supervisors, and employees.

The study was conducted jointly with researchers at JSI Research and Training Institute, Boston, and Boston University School of Public Health.

Key Findings

The study's findings contradict six beliefs widely held by corporate executives and senior managers concerning alcohol issues in their companies:

  1. Belief: Alcohol-related work performance problems are caused mostly by a few alcohol-dependent employees.

    Finding: The majority of alcohol-related work performance problems (60%) are associated with nondependent drinkers—people who may occasionally drink too much and who constitute 80 percent of all drinkers.
  2. Belief: Work performance suffers only among employees who drink on the job.

    Finding: Two specific kinds of drinking behavior contribute significantly to the level of work performance problems: drinking immediately before or during working hours (including drinking at lunch and at company functions) and heavy drinking the night before work that leads to a hangover the next day.
  3. Belief: Hourly workers are more likely to drink during work hours than managers or supervisors are.

    Finding: Upper-level managers are more likely to drink during the workday than first-line supervisors or hourly workers are.
  4. Belief: Current policies and strategies that deal with alcohol-dependent drinkers are effective.

    Finding: Managers and supervisors report a variety of organizational, interpersonal, and individual barriers to implementing corporate alcohol policies and procedures.
  5. Belief: Companies have little influence on the drinking behavior of employees away from work.

    Finding: Workplace culture and norms have the potential to influence drinking behavior both at work and beyond the workplace.
  6. Belief: Workers perceive additional company interventions regarding alcohol behaviors as intrusive.

    Finding: There is broad support among managers, supervisors, and hourly workers for assisting employees whose drinking behavior causes problems for themselves, their co-workers, or the company.