New Year's resolutions for the Wodonga manufacturing industry
By Claire Taylor, Manager, Community Planning and Wellbeing, City of Wodonga
Contact: [email protected] or on (02) 6022 9353
Every year we are set about making New Year’s resolutions. Usually it’s about ourselves, move more – join a gym, diet – make a salad, drink less – skip the bottle shop. But what about the whole picture around us? Surely our boozy culture is long overdue for a big change.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with having a drink, a fair few still drink in a way that puts them and others at risk of an injury (and long-term disease). Compared to the rest of Victoria, Wodonga has much higher rates of alcohol-fuelled emergency hospital visits, road injuries, assaults and family violence.
Figure 1 Source Turning Point AOD Stats 2016
These types of injuries are most often experienced by adult men whilst long term disease (e.g. heart or liver disease) tends to be higher amongst lower income earners1, those in rural and regional areas, men and older people2.
In 2016, analysis of local data3 confirmed that Wodonga men aged 35-55 are overrepresented in the indicators of alcohol harm. Supporting this, recent stats from VicHealth4 show that drinking is on the rise amongst local Wodonga men with two in five men binge drinking at least monthly (more than twice the rate of women).
Blue collar workers represent 45% of the male working population in Wodonga5. These men, many of whom are aged in our target group of 35-55 years, are employed in industries including manufacturing, construction and processing. Valuable insights into blue-collar drinking cultures can be gained by connecting with these workplaces.
So, what does the current blue-collar culture look like? We teamed up with Deakin University and two local manufacturing workplaces to look at the whole local picture around why men in Wodonga are drinking more and what factors could be protective against risky drinking.
Our goal was to come up with an approach that could change the Wodonga booze culture for good.
Our approach to exploring culture
We used a range of methods to touch base with locals. We used focus groups, forums, an online survey and insights from people in the health and community services sector to unpack drinking habits, patterns, trends and attitudes of men in blue-collar industries in Wodonga.
Our Deakin University research team collated the data and presented it to the men of Wodonga via a system map (using the STICK-E© software – see Figure 2) to create a shared understanding of the problem and identify the factors that are currently impacting on risky drinking among the male blue-collar workers.
The map highlights the relationships that exist between different factors within a community and how the combination of these factors might lead to complex problems, like risky drinking.
Click here to download the target group system map (PDF, 167 KB)
Whilst it might look complex, if we zoom in on ‘work troubles’ as a factor that influences drinking, stress is a major contributor that can increase risky drinking. The immediate causal thought process is that if we can reduce work stress then there could be a flow on effect around decreased drinking.
The above map was then overlayed with the thoughts from the health and community services industries to gain a better understanding of the broader system.
We found out that drinking is very much engrained in everyday life of blue-collar workers. Almost everyone has beer in the fridge at home which is where most of the heavy drinking takes place due to cheap bottle shop prices. It’s quite common and a bit of a habit to open the fridge and crack a beer when they arrive home after work. In fact, a large proportion of male blue-collar workers drink the equivalent of more than three and a half stubbies of full strength beer (5 standard drinks) on a daily to weekly basis.
Four key themes appear to be encouraging booze culture:
Enjoyment and reward
Q. What do you enjoy most about drinking?
A. "unwinding", "beer is beautiful", "makes you feel all warm and fuzzy", "social relaxer", "a nice carrot to have", "The association with alcohol and fun! If you want to go and have fun somewhere, you drink", "when you put in a real hard day's work and you do that, or you've achieved something, so I sort of reward myself"
"It helps the flow of conversation when you have visitors", "if you have a few beers under your belt, then you're a bit more approachable to other people", "relieves your inhibitions a little more", "if my mates come round I know I am going to be drinking"
Stress and coping
"There is more and more single parents and broken homes now in the community than ever before. Some parents may use it as a relaxation as they have their children", "You got to beat that demon, you got to get in control", (speaking in relation to depression and anxiety) "...just a couple to relax and to take the edge off", "unwinding"
"The more you play or watch sport, the more alcohol is available", "drinking culture is pretty complicated, and it's pretty central to everything", if you can change the way the media portrays alcohol you could have a massive impact"
It’s not all doom and gloom, a fair proportion of men (21.3%) never drink at risky levels. The team explored this and found that a hangover-free culture of drinking was motivated by the desire to:
- Improve health and lose weight - “you play sport to be fit and healthy, but then you’ll drink 12 stubbies that night and undo all that good work”,
- Save money - “I can’t afford to go to the pub. Yeah like you can buy half a dozen stubbies for you know $20 or $30. If you go to the pub and have half a dozen beers it’s nearly $50”.
- Be a good role model for children - “When the kids talk to you, it makes a hell of a lot of difference. When you have a seven or eight-year-old son or daughter saying how they feel about your drinking it hits home more”
- Remain in good standing at work – ““I start work at 4:30 in the morning so I say to myself that 6:30 is my last beer”
The approach - Who’s it gonna hurt?
Drawing on our insights and working collaboratively with men in Wodonga has been key to shaping the project approach for Who’s it gonna hurt?
Our aim is to increase peer support for low-risk drinking and reduce the impact of alcohol on the health and wellbeing of local residents, which will have a flow on effect to the broader drinking culture in the Wodonga community.
The Who’s it gonna hurt? awareness campaign challenges booze culture and includes footage of local men speaking about the impacts of risky drinking on families, finances and work performance.
We’re also working on a workplace peer-support program that increases support and feedback from colleagues and managers. Three local workplaces will participate in the program.
Are you with us in our community-wide New Year’s resolution? Let’s tackle the whole picture, support our family, friends and colleagues, and change our boozy culture for good.
Visit our campaign web page, here: http://www.whositgonnahurt.com.au/
For more info on VicHealth’s Alcohol Culture Change Initiative, visit: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/programs-and-projects/alcohol-culture-change-initiative
1 Victorian Drug and Alcohol Prevention Council 2010
2 National Preventative Health Taskforce Alcohol Working Group 2008
3 Crime Statistics Australia, AOD Stats, Ambulance Victoria, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice.
4 VicHealth Indicators 2015 https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/programs-and-projects/vichealth-indicators-survey-2015
5 2011 Census (ABS)
About the author
Claire is Manager of Community Planning and Well-being at City of Wodonga and has overseen coordination of Who’s it Gonna Hurt?, part of VicHealth’s Alcohol Culture Change Initiative. Claire has strong expertise in population health planning, health promotion and community engagement.