Workplace alcoholism Part 2

Nov 18, 2020 | Blog Articles

Katharine McLennan continues her story about alcohol at work and how to tackle the issues.
After the past 25 years of working with executives strategically and psychotherapeutically, I estimate about 30% of executives I coach are on some form
of anti-depressant and another 30% rely on alcohol as their ‘medication of choice.’ Next to our lack of sleep, I would vote in alcoholism as the leading
cause of lost productivity and, most importantly, loss of health of our people. Perhaps I can start with the statistics:
  • Alcohol costs Australian workplaces an estimated $3.5 billion annually in lost productivity
  • It does this through absenteeism – people not showing up, but even more so, ‘presenteeism’ – which is when people are physically at work but not really
    doing work – just getting by.
  • 1 in 5 people aged 14 in Australia consume alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over their lifetime
  • About 2 in 5 (40%) people aged 14 years or older drank at least once in the last 12 months in a pattern that placed them at risk of an alcohol-related
    injury from a single drinking occasion.
Being in recovery has taught me an immense amount about the nature of alcohol and what it does to me physically and emotionally, and it has also helped
me see that we need more education and understanding about the extraordinary cost of alcohol to people in our workplaces. For me, the cost of alcohol
was not only my job, it was also the respect of my colleagues my ability to operate efficiently, my ability to use my brain effectively, my ability
to connect to people and see how I could be a leader to them.
We as leaders in the workplace need to ensure that we are treating both alcoholism and alcohol with far more education and respect than we have up to this
point. When I was struggling with my own drinking, I wish that education and assistance was far more widely available and that the stigma of alcoholism
was not so exceptionally shameful.
Years later, I am still dealing with the shame of losing my job to this disease. Whilst Employee Assistance Programs these days are immensely helpful to
the alcoholic, the alcoholic is seldom identified until it is too late and they have lost their jobs, or even worse, caused so much damage through
bullying, sexual harassment or, perhaps, effected far more tragic consequences.
Most executive leaders have no comprehension of the amount of alcoholism in the workplace, or if they do, how to handle it. I urge far more education in
the leadership development programs about the true nature and prevalence of the disease and how to handle the alcoholic as a real person just as you
would someone suffering a physical or mental disease, with grace and dignity, before it is too late.
This is not an argument for zero tolerance workplaces for alcohol, but I know in my team I encourage our outings to be alcohol-free so we can really get
to know each other without props. We tend to do a lot of hard strategic thinking and psychological reflection, and drinking does not help. We laugh
about that and make light of that and say that it helps us relax so we can think and be creative. We miss so many cues, however, as the dullness of
mind increases, and the connection with other people lessens with every drink we take.

Being a non-drinker now, I can attest to the quality of thinking significantly declining with every round of drinks. I am now the designated non-drinker
with all the teams I go out with and the one at the table drinking all the mineral water watching the sophistication and the insights of the conversation
reduce along with the level in every bottle of wine.

There are solutions to alcoholism, and I have found one is personal to me. It works, but more importantly, it works in the underlying causes that I never
knew existed until I actually had to lose my job.
We, as the leaders of our organisations, who have our people spending far more than half their waking hours with us during the week, owe it to our people
to help them stay healthy and sane by helping them identify these solutions AND by ensuring our workplaces are safe from the overindulgence of a drug
that wipes away billions of dollars of productivity at the very least, and at the very most – kills.
If alcohol has caused issues in your life, our Healing Your Life program may help you understand unresolved issues
and help you find a pathway forward. Quest for Life programs are drug and alcohol free.
Katharine McLennan is the Senior Vice President, People and Culture at Cochlear. Her career spans corporate strategy, execution and leadership. Katharine is a member for the Quest for Life Foundation Board.

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