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alcoholic in the workplace

By Tim Stein

I am always surprised at the growing rate in which alcohol is showing up in the workplace. Beer on tap, wine carts, kegs—it’s all designed as a workplace perk. The problem? One out of every 12 adults is suffering from an alcohol abuse or dependency issue. In fact, more than 21 million people in the United States struggle with addiction.

I used to be one of them.

After suffering several sports-related injuries, I developed a severe opiate addiction that changed the course of my life. My story may sound out of the ordinary to some, but for those 21 million struggling Americans, it’s all too familiar. And there’s a good chance several people at your company struggle with addiction or are currently in recovery.

As a company leader, it’s important to consider those employees who may be struggling or those in recovery. It’s imperative to the health and well-being of your staff. Sure, a large majority of your workforce might welcome the 5 p.m. wine cart or the company happy hour to the local brewery. But you need to be taking into account all employees—one in 12 is a significant statistic.

I believe work and drinking should remain separate and time spent in the office should be dedicated to productivity, but I’m aware that’s not the norm in every company. At the very least, it’s time for company leaders to acknowledge alcoholism in the workplace and understand that lighthearted choices to create a fun company culture may actually be hurting employees.

Here are 5 “don’ts” for being smarter about how alcohol is incorporated into your company culture:

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1. Don’t offer alcohol as a workplace reward

You just nailed that client meeting? Come to my office and we’ll pop some champagne. Need a pick-me-up? A round of shots! These seemingly innocent actions could have negative consequences for anyone at your workplace who might be struggling. What you see as a reward, others might see as a trigger. Some companies even talk up these “perks” during the hiring process to entice candidates.

Instead, show appreciation through other means: Compliment an employee publicly at your next all-staff, buy them their favorite coffee, or plan a fun team-building event (who’s ready for some competitive bowling?!) Show prospective new hires that your company is more than drinking–instead, you prioritize a healthy work environment.

2. Don’t incorporate alcohol into any mandatory workplace event

My organization conducted a survey on substance use in the workplace and found that 66% of people admitted they have consumed alcohol during work hours. What employees do on their own time is their prerogative, but you run into trouble when drinking becomes part of activities that are required of employees.

Keep alcohol out of meetings and other workplace operations. Avoid pairing happy hours with huge company announcements, for example. I’m not saying avoid all events involving drinking, but make sure these events are not mandatory. This gives employees an easy way to opt out of events where alcohol will be present.

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