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Alcohol in the workplace

Sometimes, dealing with issues in the workplace can be really straightforward.  Poor timekeeping.  Absence without leave.  Off sick every Friday (to get ready for the weekend) and every Monday (to recover from it).  It’s relatively, although not always of course, straightforward to identify that there is a problem and what to do about it.

However, there are also issues which are incredibly difficult to deal with.  They are tough, emotional issues that leave the Manager or business owner wondering what on earth to do.  Just recently, I’ve had several cases with different clients that all come back to the same root cause.  Alcohol in the workplace.

Our relationship with alcohol is a strange one.  In Ireland, where I’m from, we are often considered a nation of alcoholics and indeed there are plenty of people battling alcoholism. However, there is also a significant temperance movement called the Pioneers who take the “pledge” not to consume alcohol.  And then there are the people in between who enjoy a drink but don’t let it affect their day to day lives.

It is when alcohol starts to affect someone’s daily life that work becomes involved, like it or not.  It’s no wonder that no one really wants to tackle the situation.  It’s a million times worse than having to tell someone that they have BO or their breath smells and we all know how embarrassing those situations are.  Sitting someone down and telling them that you’re concerned about their drinking or asking if they have been drinking because you can smell alcohol on them is really difficult for even the most experienced of Managers.

It becomes a hush hush situation.  We don’t talk about it and we don’t always raise concerns.  So, we deal with it.  We turn a blind eye when the person comes back to work after lunch, knowing they’ve been to the pub.

Sadly though, it’s not something we can ignore.  It’s not just the individual who is affected.  It’s their colleagues who have to cover.  It’s other road users who are put at risk when the person drives to and from work or back from the pub at lunchtime.  It’s their work that suffers and that matters to any business.

It is a tough conversation but it’s one you have to have.  Turning a blind eye doesn’t help anyone and it certainly won’t help your business.

I know of one situation where everyone ignored one person’s alcohol issues.  She had significant amounts of time off but it wasn’t a subject that anyone wanted to tackle.  She later died from cirrhosis of the liver.

Generally speaking, employees’ health and their lifestyle choices are not your responsibility but if your workplace is affected, that becomes your responsibility.

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