How much your drinking is costing the NZ economy

The AM Show 07/06/2019

The average Kiwi employee loses about a week's worth of productivity every year to alcohol, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Otago surveyed 800 employees and 227 employers about their drinking habits, and how it affects their work. They found the annual average cost of lost productivity per employee is $1097.71.

Overall, it costs the country $1.65 billion annually.

Trudy Sullivan, who led the study, says there are a few demographics that struggle more than others.

"We found, similar to other studies, it's the young males, ones with high job stress - which is understandable, and those who drink more than the recommended guidelines."

And showing up to work hungover is a much bigger problem than not showing up at all. Absenteeism costs $209.62 per employee on average, and presenteeism $888.09.

"It's not so much drinking on the job - it's people drinking outside of work and bringing it in," said Dr Sullivan.

Employers can spot the person who doesn't come in every Monday.

"But it's going to be much more difficult to identify those that do come to work, but aren't working to their potential."

On top of this, employers lose $134.62 in productivity annually in having to deal with employees' drinking problems, including time spent on health, disciplinary and legal matters.

Dr Sullivan says workplaces need to promote healthy living and wellbeing, and suggests employers introduce programmes that promote a healthy lifestyle.

Otago University research associate professor Joe Boden told The AM Show on Friday the figures aren't surprising.

"A number of us in the field have been researching this for a very long time."

It's clear that alcohol takes quite a toll on our society.

The previous Labour-led Government asked the Law Commission to come up with recommendations for alcohol reform, but by the time the resulting Bill made it through Parliament, National had come to power and rejected many of the Law Commission's suggestions.

"Almost none of those changes were adopted in what we colloquially refer to as the Alcohol Non-Reform Bill, because there weren't any reforms in it," said Boden.

Unless we generate the political will to actually do something about it, it's very difficult to see how that's going to change.

In 2010, New Zealand was ranked 31st in the world for alcohol consumption and 11th in the 33-country OECD. Since then, Boden says New Zealand's drinking habits have stabilised.

"We're not doing well, but we're far from the worst... Over the last few years we've been fairly steady. There was a bit of a decline for about five years... but it's held steady for the last three years. We're basically in stasis."

The research was published in journal Drug and Alcohol Review.

The AM Show / Newshub reporters Dan Satherley & Miriam Harris