One in three furloughed workers have been drinking more since lockdown began, according to the latest research. 

The study from independent alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, shows that a higher proportion of people on furlough are drinking more since the lockdown than the UK average (24%).

As the government’s furlough scheme extends to October and a number of people continue work from home to avoid spreading the coronavirus, Drinkaware is warning that thousands of workers could emerge from lockdown with ingrained drinking habits.

Of all those who are working from home as a result of lockdown, one in four (26%) people say they are drinking more.

The charity is urging employers to use the lockdown to support the health and wellbeing of staff.

Drinkaware chief executive, Elaine Hindal, said: “As lockdown continues, many are drinking more. Employers who have members of staff on furlough or who are working from home should take note of our research findings.

“The welcome extension to the furlough scheme will be vital for organisations as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic and it is good to see employers also offering flexible working. But this new normal must not lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, particularly when it comes to the health and wellbeing of the UK workforce.

“Employers must use every opportunity to make sure their staff don’t become disconnected throughout the extended furlough period and must plan for a return to work that prioritises employee health and wellbeing.

“The consequence of not doing this could result in thousands of people returning to work with ingrained drinking habits that could have an impact on their health – both physical and mental. And drinking patterns, once established, are far harder to break.”

Dr Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “It is concerning that many seem to be drinking more as lockdown continues. People are experiencing significant changes to many aspects of their lives and many do not have their usual work routine. Employers should communicate with their employees about the health and wellbeing support available to them, not forgetting those currently on furlough.”

The research, conducted by Opinium on behalf of Drinkaware, surveyed 2,001 UK adults. The study found, of those who are furloughed and drink, more than a quarter (28%) say they are drinking on days they wouldn’t usually since lockdown began. When applied to those who are working from home and drink, the proportion becomes slightly smaller (26%). This is compared with 22% of all UK drinkers.

One in seven (15%) drinkers on furlough have had their first drink earlier in the day since the start of lockdown, compared with a similar proportion of those who are working from home (14%). 

Among UK drinkers, 12% have had their first drink earlier in the day since lockdown began.

One in ten (9%) furloughed drinkers say they have had a drink in secret or covered up the fact they are having a drink since lockdown began. This is almost double both the UK average and of those working from home as a result of lockdown; 5% of both groups say they have had a drink in secret.

Hindal added: “Changes such as drinking earlier in the day and secretive drinking are signs of potentially problematic drinking behaviours that over time, can develop into alcohol dependency. It’s essential that employers explore, in a supportive and non-judgemental way, how furloughed workers and those working from home are coping and to assess the support those workers may need to protect their mental wellbeing and maintain positive, healthy lifestyle behaviours that prepare them well to return to work when the time comes.”

Dr Jill Miller added: “It’s important that line managers are trained to feel capable and confident to manage and support employees in the new remote way of working. They should have regular catch ups with their staff, asking open-ended questions to genuinely enquire about an individual’s well-being.

“Keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging employees to ask for support if they are struggling is essential, as is signposting to available support such as employee assistance programmes and information on healthy lifestyles. Our forthcoming guidance on managing and preventing drug and alcohol misuse at work will provide more practical advice for employers on this issue.”

John Timothy, Chief Executive of the Portman Group, the alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body, said: “This important and timely report from Drinkaware adds to our understanding of drinking behaviours during lockdown.
“Whilst it is heartening to see that the majority of furloughed workers, as with the wider public, are drinking the same or less than before the lockdown, we should be mindful of the small minority who may have increased their drinking to hazardous levels, potentially developing problematic behaviours.

“Whilst a small increase in drinking within Government guidelines may not be a cause for immediate alarm, we would encourage anyone concerned about their own or another person’s drinking to visit Drinkaware or the NHS online for free advice and guidance on how to cut down.”

Drinkaware has an online self-assessment that can help identify whether someone should be concerned about how much they drink.