Newswise — Excessive drinking by workers can place a burden on colleagues, whether through  absenteeism, reduced productivity or alcohol-related accidents in the workplace. Research in high-income countries has revealed the high economic cost of co-workers’ drinking, but little is known about alcohol’s harm to others in the workplace in lower- or middle-income countries. Researchers from Australia, Sweden and the USA have published a new report in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research comparing the impact of co-workers’ drinking on working people in 12 countries.

The study involved over 18,000 men and women employed in Switzerland, Australia, the United States, Ireland, New Zealand, Chile, Nigeria, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Sri Lanka.  Participants answered up to five questions about negative effects (‘harms’) of co-workers’ drinking that they had experienced in the past year. Had they (1) covered for another worker; (2) worked extra hours; (3) been involved in an accident or close call; or had their (4) own productivity been reduced; or (5) ability to do their job been affected? The researchers estimated the prevalence of harms from co-workers’ drinking within each country and across all countries combined, as well as in lower/middle compared with higher-income countries.

Overall, 7% of workers reported experiencing at least one type of harm from others’ drinking in the past year ─ from 1% of workers in New Zealand to 16% in Thailand, with most countries in the 6-13% range. Fewer workers (<1% to 12%) reported being in an accident or close call resulting from others’ drinking. In most countries, male workers had at least twice the odds of harm from co-workers’ drinking as female workers; of note, however, the survey did not address sexual harrassment due to co-workers’ drinking.  In general, workers in high income-countries were less likely to report harm from co-workers’ drinking than those in low and middle-income countries.

The findings show that workforce impairment because of drinking extends beyond the drinker in a range of countries, particularly affecting men in the lower/middle-income countries included in this study. This may be of especial concern for South-East Asian countries such as India, Thailand and Vietnam that are viewed as key emerging markets by the alcohol industry. More stringent alcohol-related regulations and strategies to address heavy drinking cultures in the workplace, and greater support and treatment for workers who drink heavily, could make workplaces safer for drinkers and their colleagues.


Cross-National Comparisons and Correlates of Harms from the Drinking of People with Whom You Work. A.M. Laslett, O. Stanesby, S. Wilsnack, R. Room, T. Greenfield (pages xxx).


Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research