Environment influences workers’ drinking: study

Use of employee assistance plans encouraged

The ease with which employees can access alcohol before, during or after work is the clearest indicator of the manner in which they may drink, an Ottawa researcher has found.

As a PhD sociology student working on her dissertation at Carleton University in Ottawa, Karen Garabedian studied raw data gathered by the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC) in 2002. A total of 1,890 respondents answered questions for AADAC’s study about their pattern of alcohol use in the 12 months preceding the survey.

Garabedian discovered that, overall, more women were drinking on the job than men. Further, she discovered that if alcohol was easily accessible to the workplace — at work or near work — the social component of people going out for drinks with their co-workers came into play and resulted in an increase in alcohol consumption among employees.

“For me, that’s a pretty big deal because sometimes we find that there are certain factors that are better predictors for women than for men, and vice versa,” she says. “But in this case, regardless of gender, working environment was predicting drinking patterns.”

These findings spurred Garabedian on to investigate exactly what type of employee was drinking on the job. What she found was people in the food service industry were most likely to consume alcohol while at work. And because food service is a female-dominated profession, she says, it fits that more women are drinking on the job than men, possibly skewing the AADAC results that showed a female prevalence in on-the-job impairment.

“When you go to a bar you’re always seeing people who are buying drinks for the waiters or waitresses or bartender, so it kind of fits with that,” she says. “Technically, they are drinking at work... so it could be for that reason, as well, that I found that association with the food service professions and drinking at work.”

She says employers need to be aware that drinking can be responsible for workplace injury, absenteeism and loss of productivity. She suggests employers encourage use of resources, such as employee assistance plans, to educate employees about the dangers of alcohol abuse.

“Most adults who are at risk for alcohol problems are employed,” she says. “So this tells us, then, that the workplace is a forum where we can promote messages about the consequences of consuming too much alcohol.”

Garabedian presented her findings, A Study on the Drinking Patterns of Male and Female Employees in Alberta: The Impact of Workplace Culture and Job Stress, in New Brunswick last month.

Kristan Wolfe is a freelance writer based in Bowmanville, Ont.

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