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How Much Do Hangovers Cost Employers?

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Apr 4, 2019 at 4:01PM

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Workers are taking days off, and some come to work despite their pain.

It happens. Maybe not to everyone, but we all know someone (or are someone) who has had a little too much to drink on a work night and then called in sick the next morning. Maybe it's the night after a sporting event, or perhaps you were celebrating a birthday.

No matter the reason, people take paid vacation due to the effects of having too much to drink, and they come into work hungover. Doing this has a real cost for employers, and it's perhaps more common than you think according to a new survey of 1,000 full-time employees conducted by Delphi Health Group.

A woman sleep in front of a laptop.

Nearly 20% of workers who came to the office hungover have fallen asleep at work. Image source: Getty Images.

How much does a hangover cost?

Anyone who has had too much to drink knows the personal cost of a hangover. You may have a headache or an upset stomach, and/or you might be a mix of dizzy and nauseous. And, of course, if you tell anyone about your condition, you're stuck listening to their folksy hangover cures.

For businesses, however, the costs are more on the bottom line. Survey respondents said they took an average of two sick days each year to recover from a hangover. The numbers varied greatly by respondent, from zero to well into "there may be a problem here" territory.

A chart shows the cost of a hangover to an employer.

Image source: Delphi Health.

As you can see on the chart above, which mixes survey data and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, hangovers do some real bottom line damage ($41.8 billion in wasted salary). These numbers may not make a big impact at a large company, but a small business might feel a real impact from the use of sick days to handle what's essentially a self-created illness.

Of course, the data shows that in many cases workers aren't taking days off when they're hungover. In fact, over three-quarters of those surveyed (75.2%) admit they have come to work hungover, and the respondents said that happened an average of six times a year (three times as often as people actually call out due to a hangover).

On those days where the workers drag themselves into the office despite not feeling well, productivity suffered. Survey respondents reported doing only five hours of work on those days, and nearly half (46.3%) said they "pretended to work" for at least part of the day. Almost the same amount (45.8%) admitted to taking an excessive amount of bathroom trips, while 35.8% took a long lunch. About a third (32.5%) said they took an excessive number of breaks, while 19.1% admitted that they actually took a nap.

What should you do?

The right move would be to not drink to excess. Of course, sometimes a hangover happens when a person does not realize he or she has imbibed more alcohol than they intended. For a person who is missing many days and hours of work due to hangovers, it's important to seek medical attention for help overcoming addiction.

If you have a hangover, it's probably best to take a sick day (assuming you have one). Doing that allows you to recover and then come back to work refreshed the next day. Of course, since you weren't sick in the traditional sense, it might be a good idea to make an effort to catch up on any work you missed being out that day.

Hangovers cost employers money, and they're avoidable. As an employee, you should consider only drinking on nights when you have the following day off if there's any chance you can't keep yourself to one or two drinks, or avoiding alcohol altogether.

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