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Health and Safety:
Stress, Bullying and Alcohol

Results of a recent study commissioned by the Samaritans* of stress at work reveal an alarmingly high rate of stress and bullying in the catering sector. At best, a stressful existence will probably make you irritable and more likely to reach for a drink, at worst the associated health issues could prove fatal while the increasing frequency of the odd drink rapidly turns your liquid friend into a foe

Spotting the signs

Exhausted? Irritable? Lost your appetite for food, fun or sex? You might be suffering from stress. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has come up with a list of 23 warning signs that should ring alarm bells if you can identify with more than five.

If you are experiencing more than five of these symptoms, you may be suffering from stress

  1. Feeling sweaty or shivery
  2. Pounding heart or palpitations
  3. Needing to go to the toilet a lot more than normal
  4. Feeling sick in the stomach (‘having butterflies’)
  5. Dry mouth
  6. Exhaustion
  7. Odd aches and pains
  8. Smoking and drinking more
  9. Working to exhaustion
  10. Headaches
  11. No time for hobbies any more
  12. Being irritable at everything
  13. Thinking “I can’t cope with this any more”
  14. Loss of appetite for food, fun or sex
  15. Eating too much or too little
  16. Loss of sense of humour
  17. Loss of interest in personal appearance
  18. Loss of interest in other people
  19. A feeling that everything is pointless
  20. Tearfulness
  21. Forgetfulness
  22. Feeling tired and having no energy
  23. Difficulty in sleeping, disturbed sleep and waking up unusually early

For further information and advice phone BHF on 0870 600 6566 or, to order an advice booklet dedicated to explaining the link between stress and heart disease, email

Professor Andrew Steptoe, BHF Professor of Psychology at University College London, says: “Research is beginning to show that, for some people at least, stress may contribute to coronary heart disease.

“Because we cannot measure stress easily, this area of research is complex and it could be years before we can say for certain whether stress directly affects the heart. A degree of challenge in life is necessary for us to feel motivated and enthusiastic, but too much stress can cause ill health. The message from the BHF is be aware of the warning signs and take action to manage your stress so that it does not damage your health.”

Job-related stress

The Samaritans’ study found that job-related stress is the second highest source of stress in the UK, behind money. Job-related stress not only affects workers’ concentration and efficiency, but also results in nearly a quarter of all UK workers (22 per cent) taking around six days off a year.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you to learn that of all the UK’s occupations, catering is one of the most stressful. When asked whether they felt that work ruled their lives, 48 per cent of caterers said that it did compared to 30 per cent of civil servants who, as a group, were the least overwhelmed about stress in the workplace.

Job-related stressOn top of this, employees’ satisfaction with their employers’ approach to stress varies from profession to profession, with catering appearing to be one of the least satisfactory. In light of these statistics, tackling workplace stress should be high on any employer’s agenda as the potential cost of stress is high, not only affecting concentration and productivity but resulting in extended sick leave.

Alarmingly, despite being so commonplace, people still seem unwilling to talk about the true reasons for taking time off stressed – instead 83 per cent of people in the UK prefer to say the time off sick from stress was because of another problem or illness such as a bout of ’flu. Such an apparent reluctance to be open about stress needs to be addressed if employers are to attempt to tackle the problems of stress and the negative impacts it has on the workplace.

Bullying at work

One key area of workplace stress that people seem particularly unable to be open about is bullying. Workplace bullying is rife in the UK with 81 per cent of people having experienced it. Again, the Samaritans’ study revealed that there are variations within different industries where bullying occurs. While 76 per cent of those working in banking/finance admitted to being bullied, those working in catering are by far the most likely to feel they have been bullied by anyone (94 per cent), ahead of the civil service (84 per cent) and health service (84 per cent).

Bullying at workTackling the problem of workplace bullying presents a huge challenge to employers, not least because of the understandable reluctance employees have to admit to their employers they are suffering. The study concluded that 90 per cent of those who needed to take time off work sick due to bullying preferred to tell their employers it was actually because of some other illness. Potentially one of the biggest barriers might have been that the person an employee has to report their sickness to may well be the person who is bullying them, i.e. their manager.

An important first step in identifying and tackling bullying is considering how to give employees confidence to talk. Thereafter you need to proactively endeavour to keep channels of communication open, not only with the health of your staff in mind, but also your business.

Protecting against booze and drugs

Alcohol and drug misuse damage businesses. Ken Crossland of the Ark for Business explains why employers need to be proactive in addressing the issue

Alcohol and drug misuse is a complex problem. It can range from binge drinking at one end of the spectrum to chronic dependency at the other, with a range of issues in between. It’s often a hidden problem, and as well as the economic and human effects on the business, it can find its way into bullying and discrimination disputes causing real reputational damage for a business.

Any business wanting to reduce the risks needs to be proactive and not presume that it can never happen here. It’s easy to think that alcohol and drugs aren’t affecting your workplace, but that’s a dangerous assumption. The reality is that while most drugs and alcohol may be consumed outside of work, the problems they bring – from productivity to absenteeism, timekeeping, staff turnover, morale and health and safety – are increasingly being felt in the workplace. On a human level, even good employees can develop problems that cost jobs – sometimes lives – and also devastate families.

Drug and alcohol policy

A workplace policy is a formal statement of an organisation’s intent, clearly setting out the rules and procedures for dealing with a particular issue.

A drug and alcohol policy states how an organisation aims to prevent substance misuse problems in the workplace and, if they occur, how that organisation will treat an employee who may have a drug or alcohol problem.

Whatever the size of your organisation, it is highly recomm-ended that you introduce a formal policy now – even if there is no evidence of current misuse.

A model workplace policy on substance misuse may cover the following:


A statement on why the policy exists and to whom it applies. Best practice would be for the policy to apply equally to all staff, including managers, and cover all types of work.


Who is responsible for carrying out the policy. Note: all managers and supervisors will be responsible in some way, but it is more effective if a senior employee is named as having overall responsibility.


Key definitions that need to be included e.g. substance misuse to include alcohol, illegal drugs, prescribed and over-the-counter medicines and solvents; company premises; working hours.

The rules

Clearly stated to ensure employees know precisely what is and
is not allowed.

Special circumstances

Are there exceptions, for example Christmas parties, staff social events, company celebrations where employees may be allowed to consume alcohol. If so, are there limits on consumption?


A statement that information will be treated in strict confidence, subject to the provisions of the law.


A statement encouraging those with a problem to seek help voluntarily, and a description of the support available.


A commitment to providing information to all employees on the effects of alcohol and drug misuse, and how they can jeopardise the health, safety and welfare of the workforce, and damage the profitability of the company.


The circumstances in which disciplinary action will be taken e.g. if help is refused and/or impaired performance continues, disciplinary action is likely; dismissal action may be taken in cases of gross misconduct; possession/dealing will be reported immediately to the police.

The Ark Foundation - Part of Hospitality ActionPart of industry charity Hospitality Action and launched in January 2007, Ark for Business helps companies in hospitality develop their alcohol and drug policy and provides management training to prevent misuse becoming a problem in the workplace. For further information visit or phone Ken Crosland on 07984 942644.
* Study conducted by nfpSynergy

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