Lara Mulawka

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Dealing with workplace hangovers

Hungover workers cost U.S. businesses roughly $90 billion a year in reduced productivity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. One study found that approximately 50 percent of U.S. workers has been hungover at work at least once. How can employers help prevent and minimize the effects of employees who come to work after drinking too much, and how can employees avoid or reduce the impacts of a workplace hangover?

Problems with workplace hangovers

  • Loss of productivity
  • Low-quality work product
  • Reduced customer satisfaction
  • Office tension among employees
  • Employee suspension or termination

Tips for employers

  1. Create a substance abuse policy

    Don’t allow managers to discipline or terminate hungover or inebriated employees at their discretion. Train supervisors how to spot and report hungover employees to whomever in your organization is responsible for employee discipline. At small companies, the owner or his or her #2 might have final decision-making responsibilities for termination. They would rely on the advice and recommendation of an employee’s direct supervisor, or one or two coworkers.

    You might institute a policy of not disciplining an employee with a mild hangover on the first instance, but logging the incident into his employee file. You can discreetly talk to employees you suspect are hungover and allow them to go home, taking a sick day. The National Business Group on Health has a free workbook that helps employers spot substance abuse early, reducing the damage it can do to a workplace. You can download An Employer’s Guide to Workplace Substance Abuse.

    Your company policy might have a trigger to suspend, terminate or help employees after a second hangover episode. Consider adding an employee assistance program to not only help employees with a drinking problem, but also to avoid losing valuable workers and incurring the costs to replace them.

  2. Provide information for employees

    Provide information for employees to deal with hangovers. Employees should be able to access the information confidentially, such as on a password protected, internal company intranet, rather than requiring employees to have to ask for the information from the company. You can provide the information with other general health and wellness information you give employees (such as diet, exercise or sleep tips in a company newsletter). Include information explaining what a hangover is and how to take steps to reduce the effects. Also, include information on addiction treatment centers in your area.

  3. Work with an attorney

    Have an attorney review and help create your company substance abuse policy. Also, have your attorney review any alcohol policies you set and any information you provide to employees so the material does not appear to condone or encourage alcohol abuse.

Tips for employees

  1. Change how you drink

    The best tip for avoiding a morning hangover is to not get drunk the night before. Alcohol is a diuretic and will make you urinate more. While dehydration doesn’t cause a hangover, it can make a headache worse. Drink a glass of water after each trip to the bathroom to stay hydrated.¬†Alternate alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic drinks, but avoid caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee and sodas. If you know you will be drinking on a work night, put some food into your stomach to help absorb and reduce the effects of alcohol. Set a limit on the number and type of drinks you will have based on your experience with their morning after effects. Try to get eight hours of sleep (leave a party early if you’re feeling buzzed). Have the number of a taxi or other ride service handy on your phone should you need to have someone take you home.

  2. Take an anti-inflammatory

    One of the main causes of hangover discomfort is inflammation. Avoid Acetaminophen, found in pain relievers like Tylenol, and choose Ibuprofen or aspirin.

  3. A morning nip?

    You might have heard that a morning after drink can help reduce the headache pain associated with a hangover. This is true, but it’s a temporary fix and not a good idea. When you drink alcohol, your brain reduces the amount of glutamine it produces. When you stop drinking, increased glutamine production can cause a headache. That’s why that morning after drink helps provide temporary pain relief. However, once you stop drinking again, the cycle repeats itself. Avoid a morning after drink as a hangover treatment since it only prolongs your recovery.

  4. Exercise

    Don’t try intense exercise when you’re hungover, but walking up and down stairs or taking a walk can elevate your metabolism and reduce grogginess.

  5. Eat the right foods

    Eating mild foods after you have drunk too much can ease a stomachache that often accompanies a hangover. Helpful food choices include:

  6. Do you need help?

    Have you come to work hungover more than once? Are you also occasionally hungover on the weekends? If so, you might have a drinking problem, or be headed toward one. If you don’t want to talk to anyone at work, find a substance abuse treatment program in your town. Ask if they have programs covered by health insurance plans. Depending on the size of your company, it might have a substance treatment plan to help employees. The National Institutes of Health has free information to help you spot the signs of problem drinking and tips for getting help.

  7. Should you try to help a hungover coworker?

    If you see or suspect that a coworker is hungover, you might want to talk to him even if you’re not his manager. However, use your judgment and think about how he might react (e.g., he might think you’re butting in). Does he have a coworker who is a close friend you can talk to instead? If this is not the first time he’s hungover, should you talk to a manager? Dealing with substance abuse is best left to a professional, so be careful before you try to help, which can lead to a plea from your coworker to keep quiet and help cover up the condition.

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