Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2010)
Article: Alcohol consumption and workplace absenteeism: The moderating effect of social support
Authors: S.B. Bacharach, P. Bamberger, and M. Biron
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Employee absenteeism is costly! Past estimates have placed the aggregate cost of employee absenteeism to U.S. organizations at around $225 billion per year. Yes, $225 billion! One important factor that contributes to workplace absenteeism is employee alcohol usage. Although this may seem like a no-brainer, according to Bachrach, Bamberger and Biron (2010), it is still somewhat unclear how alcohol usage relates to employee absenteeism.
Now wait…it should be simple, right? Employees who consume more alcohol will be more likely to be absent from work and the more frequently employees drink, the more frequently they will be absent from work…right? Actually, research suggests that it may not be this simple. In fact, Bachrach et al. argue that the amount of alcohol consumed or frequency with which it is consumed by employees within a given period of time are not the most meaningful measures of alcohol usage as it relates to absenteeism. Instead, the authors suggest focusing on the frequency of heavy drinking episodes (5 or more drinks), as they believe that this measure of alcohol usage should better predict employee absenteeism.
In their study, Bachrach et al. collected useable data from 470 transit employees working for a single organization in the U.S. As expected, the frequency of heavy drinking episodes was a better predictor of employee absenteeism than simply the amount of alcohol consumed in a given period of time.
Interestingly, the authors also found that social support from one’s coworkers somewhat negated the negative influence of heavy drinking episodes on absenteeism. For example, coworkers might offer assistance during stressful times or help with a work related problem, thus encouraging the employee to report to work despite their drinking binge. Support from supervisors, however, had the opposite effect; a high degree of perceived supervisory support actually exacerbated the negative influence of heavy drinking episodes on absenteeism. For example, the employee may interpret supervisory support as, “the boss should be cool with me not coming in today,” and are thus more likely to be absent from work.
Given the potential costs of employee absenteeism, organizations should be concerned about their employees’ drinking habits and this study demonstrates an effective way for organizations (and researchers) to measure employee alcohol consumption. Finally, it is important to note that in addition to organizations losing money due to absenteeism, employees can (and do) incur monetary losses when they are absent from work.