Alcohol in the Workplace

alcohol at work

Most people know that showing up to work intoxicated can one, get you fired, and two, be a sign of a problem with alcohol.

But there are so many other potential problems when you mix alcohol and the workplace, and they might not even seem to directly involve work at all.

Here’s what you should know.

How Much is Too Much?

Since alcohol is a legally controlled substance, with regulation about drinking and driving, much of the talk about “too much” focuses on those legal definitions—blood alcohol concentration and impaired driving. You get taught these “rules of thumb” like the number of drinks in a number of hours, eating food and drinking water, calculating based on the kind of drink, and so on.

The problem with that approach is that it can make it seem like there is a “magic formula,” and as long as you follow it you won’t have a problem with drinking.

But even in small doses, or when you have a designated driver or other times that might not be a legal problem, you still might have a problem with alcohol. In fact, the best signs of whether or not you have a problem with alcohol have entirely to do with internal questions only you can answer. Questions like:

  • Do you plan your life around alcohol, and avoid activities where there won’t be drinking?
  • Do you feel you need a drink to relax, have a good time, or alleviate physical or mental discomfort?
  • Has alcohol caused problems in your relationships or work?
  • Do you persist in drinking, despite the problems it has caused?

These kinds of tough self-reflection questions dive into the heart of the matter.

What Drinking Can Do

Like any other problem, there are degrees or levels of problems with alcohol.  Drinking too much, of course, has certain risks and health consequences.  Even drinking “a little” can have an impact on the workplace.

  • Heavy drinking can leave you “hungover” or feeling badly for as long as several days with less energy, less productive, and possibly even needing to call in sick.
  • Alcohol is a depressant that can also cause mood swings.  Those effects can last and affect working relationships.
  • Alcohol can increase feelings of isolation, “not-there-ness” or disassociation, which can impact working relationships.
  • The lingering effects of alcohol, but especially when alcohol is present in the blood stream, can decrease reaction time, coordination, and motor skills, possibly contributing to workplace accidents, injuries, or mistakes.
  • Alcohol consumption has been linked to both unplanned and unwanted sexual encounters.  When that happens with coworkers or after a work-related party, it can have lasting detrimental effects.

What You can do About it

So what can you do about it?  Should you just ban your employees from ever consuming alcohol, even on their off time, so that you won’t have anything to worry about?

Fortunately, that isn’t really necessary.  You can take these simple steps, though:

  1. Educate yourself, your friends and family, and your employees about alcohol and alcohol safety.
  2. Have clearly written substance policies, which outline actions you can and will take if an employee compromises workplace safety because of alcohol or drugs.
  3. Get help. Either for yourself or for anyone else that you know that may have a problem with alcohol.
  4. Show compassion. Sometimes the one with the problem is the last one to recognize it. Insist that people get help, but support them through that help.

Recognizing the impact of alcohol on the workplace is not always easy, but once you know what to look for, you can spot it and get help for yourself or others who need it.

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