Is gambling affecting your workforce?

21 Mar 2023

Is gambling and its impact on mental health and well-being a topic that organisations should now be giving more attention to? 

Back in 2019 Public Health England (PHE) reported that an estimated 0.5% of the population had reached the threshold to be classified as having a gambling disorder. They also estimated that 3.8% of the population are classified as at-risk gamblers - typically low-or moderate-risk gamblers - meaning they may experience some level of negative consequences due to their gambling.

They also estimated that up to 7% of the population are affected by others gambling, meaning over 10% of the population, or one in ten of us, may be affected.

The present estimate by PHE is that this leads to 409 suicides a year associated with gambling.

For those people who suffer from gambling disorder, a recognised illness, they are unable to control the impulse to gamble. This is not because they do not want to, it is because they have an impulse-control disorder which requires treatment and support.

One of the criteria used for diagnosing of gambling disorder is preoccupation of thinking. This means that the person is just totally immersed into gambling.

What might this mean for an organisation?

One of the known effects of gambling is that it can cause low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression if it becomes a gambling problem. It can also result in excessive tiredness/fatigue due to lack of sleep. The latter results from either gambling for excessive periods into what would be normal sleep hours of being unable to sleep due to financial or other worries associated with gambling. Alone or collectively these factors can impact on a person’s mental health and this mix can lead to a lack of concentration.

As reported by PHE in October 2019 when they completed their review of evidence into gambling related harms Gambling was linked to loss of concentration on work activities, showing up late, not turning up for work or turning up after no sleep”.

PHE: Gambling Related Harms Evidence Review.

The report also stated that “close associates of gamblers also reported their work performance being affected, and work colleagues and employers also suffered”.

Both fatigue and lack of concentration are themselves well recognised factors which can impact negatively on safety practices, as reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE): HSE: Human factors: Fatigue

Fatigue results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk, reduced coordination etc. Fatigue can lead to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury, and reduced productivity. It is often a root cause of major accidents e.g. Herald of Free Enterprise, Chernobyl, Texas City, Clapham Junction, Challenger and Exxon Valdez.

Fatigue has also been implicated in 20% of accidents on major roads and is said to cost the UK £115 - £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.

To date, a lack of research exists to show whether gambling harm does manifest itself in either near misses, accidents, or incidents. However, based on what is known about fatigue and concentration risk, it would suggest that there is value in organisations considering this issue.

Most if not all large organisations have an understanding of alcohol and drug addiction and have corporate policies in place to help employees with these illnesses. However, the same cannot be said around their understanding and awareness of gambling.

With technology now providing easy access online to gambling opportunities twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, as well as gambling areas in Motorway Service Stations not to mention the availability of bookmakers on highstreets, it is suggested that organisations would benefit from taking steps now to increase their awareness and understanding around this subject area, in order to determine how best to mitigate any risk whilst providing the appropriate support to their employees.

John Gilham

CEO Gambling Harm UK

[1] Public Health England was replaced by UK Health Security Agency and Office for Health Improvement and Disparities