Work factors affect off-the-job drinking habits

In brief

  • Work factors that affect job stress (such as degree of job demands and control) and job alienation (such as degree of supervision, complexity and repetitiveness) can affect employee drinking behaviours off the job.
  • Passive jobs, not just high strain jobs, should be explored as a source of unhealthy drinking behaviours.

Published: January 2009

Why was this study done?

In this study, researchers looked at the relationship between drinking habits and how work is organized. Alcohol-related problems are a significant public health challenge, and the degree to which work contributes to alcohol abuse among employees remains a concern. Job stress and job alienation are two ways through which work organization may influence drinking, as follows:

  1. Work may be more stressful when job demands are high but control over how the job is done is low (high strain job). It can also be stressful when both job demands and degree of control are low (passive job).
  2. Work may be more alienating when a job is very routine, closely supervised and not complex – meaning it requires little initiative, judgment or interaction with others.

How was the study done?

Researchers mailed questionnaires to the homes of workers from 16 worksites of six Fortune 500 companies. The questionnaires assessed self-reported work conditions, job stress, job alienation and drinking behaviours. The researchers based their findings on 3,099 responses. Workers were called “frequent drinkers” if they reported drinking on five or more days in a week within the past 30 days. They were defined as “heavy drinkers” if they had more than four (for females) or five (for males) drinks on any one day in the past month.

What did the researchers find?

In terms of job stress, high strain jobs showed no association with drinking behaviours. However, passive jobs were associated with a lower likelihood of frequent drinking, but a greater likelihood of heavy drinking. Work with low complexity, low supervision and little routine were associated with more frequent drinking. Jobs with low self-direction by workers (which had low complexity, high supervision and high routine) were not associated with drinking behaviours.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

A strength of this study was the large sample of workers who completed the survey (there was a 71 per cent participation rate). One weakness was that the study was cross-sectional, meaning it only looked at workers at one point in time. As a result, statements about cause-and-effect over time cannot be made.