Alcoholism in the Workplace

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  • 0:02 Is it a Problem?
  • 1:08 Performance & Safety Concerns
  • 2:43 Morale
  • 4:08 Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
  • 5:23 Employee Assistance
  • 6:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Alcohol has a significant impact on performance, safety, and morale in the workplace. Alcohol consumption can have an impact even if a worker does not have a drinking problem. These impacts increase dramatically when alcohol abuse or alcoholism is present.

Is it a Problem?

A group of experienced airline pilots were asked to perform routine tasks in a flight simulator. Ninety percent of the pilots were able to perform all of the tasks accurately. Then the same pilots were given the test again, only this time, they were given just enough alcohol to register as legally drunk, but no more than this. This time, only 11% of the pilots were able to perform all of the tests accurately.

The same pilots were all tested a final time. This test was given 14 hours later to allow all of the alcohol to be out of their system. Even with no alcohol in their system, only 32% of the pilots were able to perform all of the operations correctly.

This study makes it obvious that drinking has an impact on a person's work, and they don't even have to be drinking on the job or showing up to work drunk for this to occur! With close to 15 million full-time workers in the United States who can be considered heavy drinkers, this is a significant and costly concern.

Performance and Safety Concerns

Workplace performance relates to the work being produced by an employee and how well this work is executed. In other words, it's the quantity and quality of work being produced by an employee. The largest number of complaints in relation to alcohol consumption is performance problems, such as poor quality of work, more frequent mistakes, or less work being produced.

Underperforming at work is most often caused by drinking shortly before work, drinking during working hours, or heavy drinking the night before work. It may surprise you to learn that most alcohol-related workplace performance issues are associated with individuals who only occasionally drink too much rather than someone with a chronic alcohol problem. When you translate work into dollars, alcohol-related workplace performance issues create a substantial financial impact on businesses.

Another important issue related to alcohol and the workplace is its effect on worker safety. Many workers have voluntarily reported that a co-worker's drinking has in some way jeopardized their own safety at work. There are only estimates to the percentage of workplace accidents that can be attributed to alcohol. However, the International Labor Organization has estimated that up to 40% of all accidents at work either involve or are related to using alcohol.

Because it can cause errors in judgment and accident proneness, alcohol use is linked to a risk of a worker harming themselves or others, fatal accidents in the workplace, and increased workplace accident rates.


In addition to the impact that alcohol use has on workplace safety and performance, alcohol can also have a significant impact on employee morale. Morale is the mental and emotional condition of a person or group at a particular time.

It's easy to imagine how frustrating it would be to work with someone who's not pulling their weight on a project, being the boss and having a co-worker consistently show up late for work, or being worried when someone is hurt at work due to a mistake. However, there are other, less obvious effects alcohol concerns can have on workplace morale.

For an example, let's consider one possible scenario. Joe is fired from his job for coming to work drunk and operating a forklift. He tells everyone that he was fired because the boss didn't like him. This leads to rumors that the boss is planning to fire all the warehouse workers as soon as he can find a reason. The warehouse workers are worried about keeping their jobs. This stress causes many workers to look for jobs with other companies that would not do so otherwise. The higher employee turnover rate fuels the rumors. Stress also occurs because it takes time to train new workers. All of these factors lead to low morale in the workplace, and it all started with one alcohol-related incident.

How do you think morale might be affected if a co-worker had too much to drink at the company picnic and made offensive comments?

Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism

We have seen that workplace safety, productivity, and morale can all be affected by alcohol consumption. Problems can occur even when an individual only occasionally drinks. Imagine how much bigger the problem can be when a chronic alcohol problem, such as alcohol abuse or alcoholism, is present.

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