15 April 2019

Drunk or High on the Job – Attitudes to Alcohol and Drug Use at Work

If you’re one of the 40,000 pass holders to the Lloyd’s of London building, then you’ll no longer be allowed in if you’ve been drinking or taking drugs. In April 2019, the insurance organisation tightened its code of conduct around alcohol and drug use at work. Security guards will be able to confiscate passes, where people break the rules.

In February 2019, an American Airlines pilot was arrested at Manchester airport, minutes before he was due to fly to America. He was detained under suspicion of being over the alcohol limit while performing an aviation function.

In January 2019, a Peterborough teacher was struck off for possession of Class A drugs. The drugs were found in a raid on his home address. There was no evidence of drug-related activities on school premises.

These are three examples of serious professional and legal consequences of breaking workplace rules on alcohol and drug use.

Still, in many other jobs – including hospitality, leisure, sales and media roles – drinking in work situations is often seen as the cultural norm. Where industries thrive on entertaining their customers or generating publicity, for example, alcohol and drug use at work can be culturally acceptable – even encouraged.

In this blog, we’ll look at attitudes to alcohol and drug use at work across different industries. Why do people drink or use drugs at work? So, what can colleagues and employers do when people at work get addicted?

Please contact the UKAT Admissions team for information about addiction treatment – including alcohol and drug detox, rehab and counselling.

Alcohol and Drug Use at Work – Cultural Norms in Britain

In the 21st century, most employers have policies in place about alcohol and drug use at work. This is mainly because employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at work Act 1974, The Transport and Works Act 1992 and The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Additionally, there have been significant shifts in societal attitudes to sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace. In recent years, many employers have tightened up their policies around alcohol and drug use, to help improve workplace culture and protect their reputation.

However, in every workplace, there are cultural norms around drinking and even taking drugs. For example, in hospitality and sales roles, it is sometimes deemed acceptable – or expected – to drink at work. Take these three scenarios:

  • You work at a village pub, and the regular customers enjoy buying you drinks on your shifts. Your boss sees it as great for business. They encourage you to accept the drinks rather than take a tip.
  • You’re a holiday rep, dancer, singer or DJ. It’s your job to entertain people, often late at night. You take cocaine at work because you think it helps you to stay alert or perform. Other colleagues or associates take cocaine too.
  • You’re closing a deal over lunch – you order expensive wine and spirits with the meal to drink with your client.

Other industries have a zero tolerance attitude to alcohol and drug use at work. Typically, this applies in roles where workers have a duty of care to other people or safety is paramount – nurses, doctors, therapists, firefighters, police officers, care workers and teachers, for example. It also applies to all roles where it’s illegal to drink or take drugs – such as driving a taxi, van, lorry or train, operating heavy machinery or flying a plane.

In many of these roles, employees are likely to face disciplinary proceedings and even criminal charges, if they drink or take drugs on the job. Self-employed workers who contract with an organisation usually need to abide by organisational policies, risking termination of the contract if they break the rules.

working while drunk or on drugs is often against company policies

Who Follows the Rules on Alcohol and Drug Use at Work?

Most employees or contractors will modify their use of alcohol and drugs in line with the organisational policies. If you’re not an addict, when you start work with a new employer or win a contract, you’ll quickly adopt the expected conduct around alcohol and drug use at work.

In every industry, however, some people are affected by alcohol or drug addiction. From bankers to construction workers, politicians to police, medics to teachers, media executives to charity workers; addiction spans all sections of society. Every age group is affected by addiction – though there are many variants in terms of alcohol and drug use across age brackets.

Where people are addicted, workplace rules on alcohol and drugs don’t usually make much difference to the progression of their addiction. Until the point that major consequences set in, functioning alcoholics and addicts often try to hide their illness and cover up any transgressions at work.

How Can Colleagues and Employers Help Addicts?

Today, more employers are adopting alcohol and drug policies that support rehabilitation from addiction. By approaching addiction as an illness, employers can foster a supportive environment for people who become addicted. In this way, workplace policy can encourage employees to seek help for addiction, rather than covering up an addiction for fear of reprisals.

Close colleagues can also help. If you work alongside an addict, often you’ll be the first to spot if something is wrong. You might notice peaks and troughs in work performance, unexplained or regular absence from work, shifts in mood or appearance, or even presenteeism (where people chronically over-perform at work and suffer stress). If you think a colleague is struggling with addiction, offer your support to them in private or refer them to this site. Your colleague may or may not accept your help. It can still help to break through their denial around the impacts of addiction, however.

If you think a colleague is addicted to alcohol or drugs, try not to enable their addiction. If you’re always covering up for a colleague’s mistakes, for example, it could be counterproductive and could prolong their dependence.

If you’re an employer who wants to find out about alcohol or drug treatment, please get in touch with UKAT today. Our service is confidential, and we offer detox, rehab and counselling across the country. Equally, if you’re worried about your alcohol or drug use at work, call us for an addictions assessment and treatment choices.

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