From time immemorial, alcohol has been bound up with workplace culture as a go-to means of sealing deals, celebrating success and offering generous – albeit headache-inducing – non-financial rewards.
In the C-suite, some leadership figures enjoy cultivating a “work hard, play hard” attitude among their staff, regarding the out-of-hours social sides of their organisations as valuable accelerants to bonding and achievement. But there are cases in which this behaviour can be considered egregious. In court last week, Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley raised eyebrows by describing himself as a “power drinker” whose “thing” is binge drinking – adding, with disarming frankness, “I like to get drunk”.
Around the time of Travis Kalanick’s departure from Uber, it emerged that, following an audit of the company’s culture, law firm Covington & Burling had advised it to “Institute and enforce clear guidelines on alcohol consumption and the use of controlled substances” – hinting at the slide that bosses and staff had fallen into, thanks to the appetites nurtured by a pan-organisational bravado.
Plenty of leaders, though, tack in completely the opposite direction: for all his more surprising outbursts, Donald Trump is avowedly teetotal.
We live in a world of wildly contrasting tastes and tolerances, but which benchmarks can leaders use to ascertain that alcohol is doing their firms more harm than good?
The Institute of Leadership and Management's CEO Phil James says: “Alcohol is a renowned dis-inhibitor, but if the context in which it’s drunk is work related, then one has to be mindful that over-indulging can actually do you professional harm.
“If the culture of the organisation is one where everyone is supposed to drink, then some consideration must be given to the people you could be excluding. There will be people who don’t drink for religious or health reasons – or because alcohol has had a negative role in their own, personal histories. These individuals shouldn’t have to feel awkward, out of place or threatened by the tastes of the majority.”
James adds: “There’s evidence to suggest that ingrained drinking cultures are becoming less and less fashionable anyway. If you look at the culture of long lunches in the City of London over the past 20 years, you can see that they are actually diminishing. And if we care about the health and wellbeing of our employees, then we shouldn’t really be encouraging them to drink loads of alcohol.
“Also, if we really value an inclusivity agenda, then we shouldn’t be relying upon alcohol to form the required social bonds – that could all be done purely by having clear and open-minded conversations with people in quieter circumstances, where it’s much easier for you to understand and absorb each other’s viewpoints.”
For further thoughts on how to promote wellbeing at work, check out this learning item from the Institute
Other resources of interest
- 18 August 2017
- 17 August 2017