Workplace drinking: where's the bar?

Workplace drinking: where's the bar?

It’s Friday. The time is 4:30 and its summer in Britain. There’s only one thing on your mind.


The refreshing first sip of that crisp, cool beer or a chilled glass of rosé immediately after the bell tolls 5.


This post-work ritual is a revered part of the working week, for good reason. It’s finally time to relax after working your little cotton socks off for 40 hours this week.


Whilst unwinding at the end of the week is a great way to recharge before the next week hits, nobody would dream of mixing alcohol with work. Would they?


An article published on the HR Grapevine by Beckett Frith proved me wrong.


According to the report, a detective for Merseyside Police clocked in for work so drunk ‘she thought she had finished her shift in just one hour’.


To the untrained eye, this reeks of ‘whacky Facebook story’ that resulted in a dismissal. To an HR expert, this is a complex workplace crisis.


When ex-Detective Constable Donna Montgomery showed up to her trial for driving with excess alcohol, her reasoning behind her misdemeanour was `workplace stress’. Montgomery claimed:


“I had been off work for three months with work-related stress… I was upset by what had happened and I started to drink more. I could have a bottle of wine a night.”


With nearly 600,000 dependent drinkers in England and serious medical conditions linked, it’s hard to avoid the dreary underlying issues within the story.


But how should you deal with drinking in the workplace and the problems surrounding it?


Firstly, you need to identify the signs of an employee with an alcohol problem. Natural HR have made a handy list of the warning signs.


Secondly, you need to approach the issue in a calm and collected manner, as to not draw too much attention to the individual and respect their privacy.


The Society for Human Resource Management has some really good information on how to approach the situation carefully, discreetly and sensitively to avoid the issue turning into something more than it is.


Whatever you do, always put the health and safety of your colleagues first.


A great position to be in as an HR employee is one that is experienced and qualified to deal with situations such as this. For more information on how to get qualified, check out the DPG website.

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Sam Houlton

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  • It raises some interesting questions.  An obvious starting place is what is the organisational Alcohol in the Workplace policy if there is one.  In the police service their Code of Conduct clearly positions Drunk on Duty as an absolute no no and serious misconduct.  But what about issues related to stress in the workplace? Is this a Capability issue and a 'welfare' orientation to solution? Where does this fit with an employer's 'duty of care' as a reasonable employer let alone health and safety issues such as operating organisational equipment etc.(was the vehicle a police vehicle?) How often is 'a bottle of bubbly' given as a motivational award in the workplace including to those who do not drink? And let's not forget that old chestnut the work Christmas Party - off work premises but still classed as an exttension of the workplace in some circumstances such as if funded by the employer. It is interesting that open reporting on a criminal law case in a Magistrates' Court  impacts potentially on the workplace - or does it?  What if this was a drink driving offence outside the workplace? How do you ensure consistency in the workplace in dealing with alcohol related issues?



    • This is a really interesting reply, thanks Debbie! I agree the story leaves much to be discovered in relation to what vehicle was being driven and the impact of it being outside the workplace. Hopefully, the story will spark a rise in interest in the matter and we'll be able to learn from the events and how to deal with them accordingly!

      • Here is the original Telegraph reporting:

        Interestingly a criminal court the Magistrates' Court found her not guilty though her employers '... Police are to hold an internal inquiry'.  On further reading the vehicle was her own vehicle on the way into work. In my experience it is a dichotomy - compliance v compassion - and every case is unique based on the facts at hand drawn from a thorough investigation and the actions of a reasonable employer that considers and discounts a wide range of approaches.


        Detective arrived at work so drunk she thought she completed shift in one hour, court hears
        A female detective turned up at work so drunk she thought she had finished her entire four-hour shift after an hour, a court heard.
  • This is a really interesting piece and I also read the HR Grapevine article.

    What I think is also a concern is this new 'fad' that seems to be around where a bar, yes bar, complete with gin, wine, beer etc is wheeled around offices on a Friday afternoon - I have spoken to 2 different recruitment agencies this week who all have 'drinks trolley Friday'!

    Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy a tipple or 2 but how can we, as HR professional, support drinking in the workplace? If we caught someone drinking at work we would take action, obviously, but how can we if the company operates a 'drinks trolley Friday'!

    Luckily, my company don't offer such things but it's worth considering all of the consequences before implementing anything to do with alcohol in the workplace!



    • Thanks for the comment Jennifer!

      I must say I've never heard of a drinks trolley going around the office on a Friday, but I can certainly see the issues surrounding it. Perhaps a way to beat this without removing the element of fun would be to have the trolley come round at closing time, so those who wish to tipple can do so out of office hours making it less risky for the HR department.

      Stil not sure whether that would avoid all the consequences though!

      • It's a tricky one Sam - on one hand a I love the idea and think it's a great little benefit and reward after a hard weeks work. But on the other, HR orientated hand, it makes me very nervous! I can just imagine that one person who can't handle their drink having one too many and before you know it there's a disciplinary to deal with!!


        • I agree it would be a lovely treat at the end of a long week, but there will always be one person who ruins that treat!

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