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Do ‘hangover days’ at work encourage trust or bad habits?

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Some firms have brought in so-called ‘hangover days’ to accommodate staff with busy social lives. Photo: Getty

Flexible working is becoming the norm for many businesses, who allow workers to clock on remotely or work hours outside the traditional nine-to-five. The benefits are far-reaching for both employees and employers, boosting mental wellbeing, work-life balance, and productivity, to name a few.

Some firms are taking things a step further, however. Not only do they allow flexible working, but they’ve brought in so-called ‘hangover days’ to accommodate staff with busy social lives.

Digital marketing firm The Audit Lab is one such company which allows staff to be honest about why they won’t come into the office and take a dedicated hangover day.

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“A hangover day is essentially a work from home day that is booked in last minute. Due to the nature of our industry, which can involve schmoozing with clients and networking, there are a lot of conferences, events and work dos,” the company explains in a blog post.

“Our approach acknowledges that our staff may like to enjoy a drink or two at these events. A hangover day then allows them — if they’re feeling a little worse for wear the morning after — to ring up their line manager and ask if they can still complete their work, but from the comfort of their own sofa. Or bed, we don’t judge.”

There are several rules, including being honest, giving as much notice as possible and being prepared — making sure you take your laptop home beforehand so you can work from there. Employees are also asked to make “smart choices” for the business — so no calling in with a hangover when they’re due to do a presentation.

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According to The Audit Lab, allowing staff to be honest about hangovers helps build trust and a culture of openness. It also helps improve work-life balance and helps draw talent from the nearby hub of Manchester to the company, which is based in Bolton.

“Hangover days may seem like a great way to improve employee engagement. It could also be said to promote a culture of trust between the employee and their manager, a cornerstone of engagement — as the alternative is often that the employee calls in sick with a lame excuse,” says Gillian McAteer, head of employment law at Citation.

“It also protects the business from situations where the employee comes in when their fitness to work is impaired and at best, performs under par as a result or at worst, poses a risk to themselves, colleagues or customers.”

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It sounds like a dream come true for many people, particularly those who have suffered through alcohol-induced nausea in a stuffy meeting room. But are there any downsides?

Perhaps the most obvious is that employees may be more inclined to go out drinking on a weeknight if they feel they can get away with it, which could have a detrimental impact on their work and productivity.

Critics have also pointed out that hangover days may also encourage staff to drink more, which is at odds with their duty to safeguard employee health and mental wellbeing. Alcohol is already often used by workers as a coping mechanism for stress and the pressures of modern life. 

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According to the Institute for Alcohol Studies, as many as 89,000 people may be turning up to work hungover or under the influence of alcohol every day, costing the economy up to £1.4bn ($1.83bn) a year. On average, respondents believed themselves to be 39% less effective when they were drunk or hungover.

“Hangovers are the most commonly reported negative consequence of alcohol use with significant health and economic implications. Whilst previous research has estimated the costs associated with hangover-related absenteeism in the workplace, the cost of reduced productivity of being hungover ‘on the job’ has not been explored,” said Dr Sally Adams, assistant professor in health psychology at the University of Bath, and an expert adviser to the project.

McAteer adds that employers should consider the wider implications such as religious discrimination claims from employees who are unable to benefit from this perk if their religion — or any other factor — prohibits them from drinking alcohol.

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“A better approach would be to offer employees a couple of ‘as you need it’ days which could be taken to cover hangover days, Christmas shopping or days when the employee is just feeling low,” he says. “Taking a day for themselves may be just what is needed to help them take care of their mental health and return to work reinvigorated and appreciative of having an employer who is interested in their welfare.”

And while coming into the office after the Christmas party is one thing, it’s another if you’re hungover at work every single week.

Andrew Misell, director of Alcohol Change UK in Wales, stated: “There’s nothing wrong with having a drink, but knowing in advance that you’re going to drink to the point where you can’t get into the office the next day is a different story.”