Janey Lee Grace – BBC 2 radio presenter and founder of The Sober Club – writes about the effect drinking alcohol can have on our work lives, and what more progressive employers are doing to encourage sobriety amongst their workforce…
Janey Lee Grace is the founder of The Sober Club and author of Happy Healthy Sober: Ditch the booze and take control of your life
Words: Janey Lee Grace
If you’ve ever woken up feeling exhausted and depleted as you head to work on a Monday, wishing you’d forgone those Sunday drinks – you’re not alone. It’s thought that around 3-5 per cent of workplace absence is alcohol-related, and over 30 per cent of workers surveyed said they had been to work hungover.
Alcohol is so deeply ingrained in our culture; it’s the ‘social glue’ that sticks everything together: workplace functions, weddings, playdates, graduations, funerals – celebrations to commiserations.
We’ve been brainwashed into thinking there are two types of drinkers, those at rock bottom – alcohol dependent – and everyone else. The reality is it’s a spectrum, the majority of people fit into the category of ‘grey area’ drinkers.
After tentatively trying a 30-day challenge to go sober, five years ago, I never looked back. It was as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud, a whole world opened up to me. I discovered, to quote the most perfect book title by author Catherine Gray ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’.
Fortunately, many of us are questioning why we drink and in what ways it’s serving us (or not). We are seeing the beginnings of a sober-curious revolution.
And some progressive employers see the value of workplace support, when it comes to alcohol.
PSUK (psychological services) – who have a large team of forensic and clinical psychologists offering a specialist service within a criminal justice context – support their staff through the delivery of workplace events that include identifying ‘grey area drinkers’, offering information and a flavour of how they might benefit from positive sobriety.
This is largely due to the CEO Kerry Manning who is just over two years sober herself and is keen to encourage others to see the benefits.
Several local authorities offer support, too.
Blackburn Borough Council offer staff an Employee Assistance Programme, which allows employees (and their families) to access confidential health and wellbeing support including psychological and counselling services and other support if they are worried about their drinking.
Rather ironically, Diageo, the global leader in drinks, are really flying the flag in this area, their commitment to promoting positive drinking is part of their company ‘Spirit of Progress’ action plan. They promote moderation and responsible drinking.
Salesforce, a global company who offer customer relations management systems, have a huge online community of their own. Their Soberforce programme was set up by a regional VP of Enterprise Service, who is 16 years sober. The community gathers virtually (and if they wish, anonymously) and the invitation is open to 75k employees globally. People can share struggles and their experience which of course encourages yet more sober curiosity.
Quitting booze is much easier now than it used to be. We can still attend networking events, especially with so much choice in terms of alcohol-free drinks, by the big breweries as well as artisan producers. There are alternatives to beers, spirits and botanicals, as well as kombucha and artisan tonic waters.
If you ditch the booze, you have the opportunity to get back your health, your productivity, your appetite, your sleep, good relationships, your sanity. You will feel less anxious; the link between alcohol and mental health cannot be denied and then there’s surprising benefits like feeling brave, and getting ‘sober hair’ (who knew?).
Ask yourself: Could my life be better without the booze?
If the answer is yes, set yourself a challenge.
When we think of ‘giving up’ anything, part of our emotional brain feels deprived, that’s why as soon as something triggers us, or a craving pops up, we can cave in.
Perhaps we make it to the end of the month only to breathe a sigh of relief and then binge drink enough to undo all the good work.
Plan ahead using the great behaviour change planning tool called WOOP developed by Dr Gabriele Oettingen. It’s been used effectively in many areas of life.
WOOP stands for:
WISH – set your wish to achieve a meaningful goal, and make it a memorable phrase.
OUTCOME – what is the outcome you want; the best result or feeling from accomplishing that wish? Remind yourself of some of the rewards you are looking forward to.
OBSTACLE – what is within you that might prevent you from accomplishing your wish, or what might crop up to make you feel wobbly?
PLAN – what will be your plan of action, if the obstacle presents itself? How can you plan ahead effectively for different scenarios?
For example your WISH may be to ditch the booze for a minimum of 30 days.
Your OUTCOME might be that you hope to feel more productive, lighter, happier, and proud of yourself and look forward to saving enough money for a day trip or a new coat.
The OBSTACLE could be office drinks event that you’re helping to organise.
You could PLAN to create an innovative mocktail evening.
Write down your ‘WOOP’ on a piece of paper and keep it where you can see it, make a note of it on your phone and use the technique every time you have a new situation coming up.