top of page
  • Tamar Balkin

Leadership, Wellbeing And Alcohol: A Potent Cocktail Or A Unique Opportunity?

"I like piña coladas

And gettin' caught in the rain

I'm not much into health food

I am into champagne"

Escape by Rupert Holmes (click here for the music)


Personal Screen shot of The Sydney Morning Herald Instagram post 23/11/21


Who is drinking?

“Alcohol is an intrinsic part of Australian culture, and it plays a central role in most people’s social lives. Heavy drinking is seen as acceptable in almost all social situations, from weddings to sports matches, and even at funerals or baby showers. There are very few occasions where drinking alcohol is not encouraged. The social acceptability of drinking to excess needs to be challenged at both individual and cultural levels”

Victorian Health

10% of the Australian population consumed 54.4% of all the alcohol in 2016, these drinkers were more likely to be male, were slightly more likely to be aged between 40 and 69 years and were disproportionately likely to live in regional areas. Heavy drinkers were also more likely to report drinking in their own home, at pubs and clubs, raves and dance parties, at work and in public places like parks. In terms of risk behaviours, they were three times as likely as other drinkers to report driving under the influence of alcohol and around five times more likely to report causing public disturbances or verbally abusing someone. Contrary to popular view, researchers have found that employment status and neighbourhood disadvantage had no significant impact on drinking behaviour.

What is the impact of too much alcohol on the individual ?

"Oh demon alcohol, Memories I cannot recall, Who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol."

Alcohol by The Kinks (click here for the music)

Researchers have found that the short-term consequences of heavy drinking include blackouts, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, hangovers, alcohol poisoning, unintended and/or unprotected sexual activity, injury, traffic accidents, and death. In addition, those who engage in heavy drinking may also be more likely to harm others, for example via vandalisation, inter-personal violence and aggression, and traffic accidents due to drink-driving. Heavy alcohol use can also significantly affect an individual’s family, socioeconomic status and employment.

"13 per cent of young Australians experience a substance use disorder"

Pidd, Duraisingam, Roche, and Trifonoff.

According to the Australian Department of Health, heavy drinking can have the following long-term negative consequences:

  • mental health issues

  • substance abuse

  • increased risk of diabetes and weight gain

  • impotence and other problems with sexual performance

  • cancers such as stomach cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, oesophageal cancer and liver cancer

  • fertility issues

  • brain damage and brain-related conditions such as stroke and dementia

  • high blood pressure, heart damage and heart attacks

  • cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.

What is the impact of too much alcohol on the workplace?

“Acceptable consumption and ‘excess’ were framed around personal experience and ability to function rather than quantity of alcohol consumed.”

Ling, Smith, Wilson, Brierley-Jones, and Crosland

Alcohol abuse is associated with multiple negative workplace outcomes, including: absences from work; accidents; mistakes; omissions, incivility; turnover; arguments and fighting; sleeping on the job; presenteeism, and general productivity loss. Employers bear the brunt of many of these costs through greater employee turnover and reductions in both quantity and quality of work.

Can work contribute to alcohol consumption?

"Cheers to the freakin' weekend I drink to that, yeah-e-yeah Oh, let the Jameson sink in I drink to that, yeah-e-yeah Don't let the bastards get you down Turn it around with another round There's a party at the bar"

Cheers by Rhianna (click here for the music)

Researchers have found that the following elements of a work culture and environment have the potential to put individuals at risk for problematic drinking, and in turn put the workplace at risk for costly work-related problems:

  • quality of work life (e.g., stress, alienation, and job satisfaction),

  • social control (policies, visibility, and mobility),

  • alcohol availability (physical and social),

  • social/cultural norms (alcohol beliefs, traditions, and rituals)

In addition, low levels of workplace social support were significantly associated with risky alcohol use and the frequency of cannabis use, and workplace bullying was significantly associated with meth/amphetamine use.

What can a leader do?

Regular readers would be aware of the need to create a psychologically safe and healthy workplace to improve the quality of work life for employees. Researchers have found that education when combined with the brief intervention program, has the most potential in reducing the alcohol consumption of employees. As with all change management programs critical to their success is that they are sustained over time and that obstacles (e.g., lack of organisational support and cooperation in implementing follow up interventions) are overcome. Other researchers found that team education programs which included elements to foster: social support and consideration; personal confidence; accountability; coping, and stress management had the following impacts:

  • raised awareness of alcohol and other drug risks,

  • increased help seeking,

  • personal resilience and

  • significant decreases in recurring heavy drinking and work related problems with alcohol

Researchers also found that lowered social and physical accessibility to alcohol and stricter and unambiguous alcohol policies reduce undesirable drinking practices that occur just before coming to work, on the job, and during breaks. The workplace offers many advantages as a setting for preventing alcohol problems. For example, full time employees spend a significant proportion of their time at work, increasing the possibility of exposure to preventive messages or programs offered through the workplace. Workplace interventions can access specific groups that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Thus workplace programs designed to prevent and reduce alcohol problems can potentially benefit the employee, the employer, and society in general.

Final thoughts:

“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early in 2020 led to a turnaround in the long-term trend of declining alcohol consumption which we had seen consistently over the last 15 years. "

To drink in moderation, with food, as part of a pleasurable activity that doesn’t necessarily have the purpose of getting drunk, became a new trend in Australia in the 1960's. As we emerge from the cocoons of lockdown the challenge will be to re-embrace this mindset. As an aside, one of the cultural practices that is traditionally associated with drinking has inspired some lockdown entrepreneurial spirit. The typical Australian response to life events like marriage, promotions or a bad day was to “shout” or buy a round of drinks for your friends at the pub. “Shouta” a brand new Aussie app, took a twist on this bonding behaviour by enabling you to “shout” your friends a coffee, meal, manicure or even a Panadol with the click of a button. In the spirit of Movember, email me and tell me what changes are you going to make to your drinking habits or those of your employees.



Ames, G. M., PhD., Bennett, J. B., PhD., & Spera, C., P.H.D. (2011). Prevention Interventions Of Alcohol Problems In The Workplace: A Review And Guiding Framework. Alcohol Research and Health, 34(2), 175-87. (n.d.). Shout Your Mates Beers, Coffee, Burgers And More With This Epic New App. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2021].

Vulnerability and Protective Factors of Stress-Related Drinking: An Exploration of Individual and Day-Level Predictors of Alcohol Involvement

McCabe, Cameron Trim. Portland State University. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016. 10241287.

Australian Government Department of Health (2019). What are the effects of alcohol? [online] Australian Government Department of Health. Available at:

Ling, J., Smith, K.E., Wilson, G.B., Brierley-Jones, L., Crosland, A., Kaner, E.F. and Haighton, C.A. (2012). The “other” in patterns of drinking: A qualitative study of attitudes towards alcohol use among professional, managerial and clerical workers. BMC Public Health, 12(1).

Pidd, K., Duraisingam, V., Roche, A. and Trifonoff, A. (2017). Young construction workers: substance use, mental health, and workplace psychosocial factors. Advances in Dual Diagnosis, 10(4), pp.155–168.

Stanesby O, Labhart F, Dietze P, Wright CJC, Kuntsche E (2019) The contexts of heavy drinking: A systematic review of the combinations of context-related factors associated with heavy drinking occasions. PLoS ONE 14(7): e0218465.

12 views0 comments


bottom of page