Workplace Drinking - Where (And How) To Draw The Line
March 1 2016 - Nobody wants to run a grim, dull office full of puritanical restrictions. Giving your people a bit of freedom and respecting their autonomy can be great for morale. It also fosters a much happier and more productive work environment. Alcohol is often involved in the formation of good relationships outside of work, and many employees realize that encouraging employees to socialize in non-work environments (such as pubs) is a far more effective manner of 'team building' than the kind of http://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2010/oct/11/dislike-awayday-teambuilding-exercises">tiresome assault-course weekends which were all the rage a few years ago. This is why many workplaces have developed something of a 'drinking culture'. If kept under control, this kind of convivial booze-based socializing can be a boon for business. However, if it gets out of control, it can begin to affect production. Similarly, if any of your team are frequently coming in to work hungover or still drunk, of you suspect them of drinking on the job, it can become something of a problem. How can you ensure that alcohol stays in its place and doesn't start to get in the way of productivity, without putting people's backs up and seeming like a Dickensian killjoy?
1 - Put Parameters In Place
You may be able to stop a problem before it starts by issuing clear guidelines about when and where drinking is acceptable. Don't go too draconian - insisting that people stay sober on work nights is unlikely to endear you to anyone. However, rules along the lines of 'No drinking during work hours', 'No drinking at work' and so on probably won't be considered unreasonable. You'll probably find that, in fact, a lot of your team will be happy to know precisely where they stand as regards drinking and working. In the case of problems developing, setting parameters in place helps you to see more clearly when a pattern of deviation is occurring, and gives you something to pin your side of the story against in the event that you have to bring up someone's drinking with them.
2 - Sort Out Immediate Problems As They Present Themselves
It's a rare business which hasn't had someone turn up drunk or chronically hungover at one point or another. We're all human, and we've all been in similar situations, so don't go mad. Assess such incidents on a case-by-case basis. If the employee in question knew that you needed everyone on tip-top form today yet turned up in a state nonetheless, you can perhaps reprimand them more severely than someone who simply overdid it on a Sunday night and isn't really feeling it this Monday. If need be, send the employee in question home to sleep it off, and have a chat with them about it when they return. If you react in a reasonable manner, and don't fly off the handle, you'll probably find that they're more upset about it than you are when you come to discuss it!
3 - Don't Make Assumptions
Just because someone often gets drunk, it doesn't mean that they're an alcoholic. In fact, someone who really does have a problem with alcohol dependency is less likely to appear 'drunk'. This is partly because they're tipsy so often that people don't realize that their behaviour is due to anything other than their basic personality. But it is also because they often keep themselves in a state of semi-equilibrium by continually topping up their blood alcohol levels. Alcoholism is a big problem, and can have a serious effect upon someone's productivity, performance, and even safety at work. If you think that one of your employees has an alcohol problem, then talk to them about it by all means (see below), but don't let your assumptions cloud your judgement of them until you know more.
4 - Reprimand Repeat Offenders
Demonstrating your magnanimity by not coming down hard on those whose incidents of workplace drunkenness are out of the ordinary is a good thing to do. However, if someone is frequently drunk, or hungover, or taking nips from a bottle at work then it's time to start taking things a little more seriously. They're not doing themselves any good, and they're certainly not doing anything for team productivity. Talk to them about it, and if this has no effect, commence disciplinary proceedings.
5 - Don't Be Orwellian
Having your team hampered by a drunk or hungover member can be very frustrating. It's understandable that you'd wish to reduce the chances of this happening. However, trust is very important within work environments, and you don't want to bring in measures which will make people resent you. Once you've established some reasonable parameters, don't go out of your way to check that people are sticking to them. Things like random alcohol testing - unless you're in an industry which involves heavy machinery operation, driving, and so on - will do absolutely nothing for morale. Trust your team, and they'll repay your trust with good performance.