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Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Marcus Williams Training Academy podcast. Today we are doing a segment I call, “If I were in charge,” “If I were in charge.” So, if you like my podcast, before we get started please subscribe, share it with your friends
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Okay, “If I were in charge.” Today we're talking about alcohol, alcohol and misconduct, alcohol in business. This could be a touchy subject. So I want to say upfront, I want to be open and honest, I don't drink. I don't drink alcohol. I don't have any desire to drink alcohol.
So I have, my opinion is colored by that. I understand that. But I also have a lot of experience in doing investigations in situations where alcohol was involved. So it's not just my opinion on alcohol. Alcohol has-it's a part of business, it's a part of life. People have business meetings that revolve around alcohol. Companies hold parties and gatherings where they offer alcohol to their employees to have a good time, to relax. Alcohol is a part of life and therefore a part of business, so it's something that we need to be cognizant of; something we need to talk about.
So I did a search, “alcohol and business,” just a very simple search and there were tons of articles. And guess what? The majority of those articles were talking about how to manage alcohol in business, how it- rules on what you should do to reduce your risk when you want to offer alcohol at a company party, what to do if you're going to have a business meeting over drinks. So, it's clearly a problem. It's such a problem that there are dozens of articles telling you how to handle it, how to manage it, what you need to do to not create a business disaster because of the alcohol.
Anything else in our life, if it were that big of a deal, if it caused that many problems in our business, we would just get rid of it. We wouldn't do it. But alcohol is here to stay. It's not going away. They tried that; didn't work out so well. And I'm not for prohibition.
I am not saying that alcohol should never be part of a business meeting. I’m not saying that you should prohibit any of your employees from drinking; not saying any of that at all. Again, I don't drink. That's a personal choice. But I'm not pushing that choice on you. I just want to talk about how it impacts the workplace and how it impacts misconduct.
So first of all, speaking as an investigator, when I was a Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, I specialized in general crimes. I did counterintelligence and counterterrorism as well, but I specialized in general crimes and specifically in family and sexual violence. It got to the point where alcohol was so prevalent in our reports in situations-on allegations of sexual violence drinking was involved, that it got to the point where we were required to put in our report whether alcohol was a factor in the alleged crime or not. That had to be in the executive summary of our report. So the-if someone at the top, if our director wanted a summary of a case that was happening out in Japan or in California or Virginia or wherever, it was-he would get this executive summary and in that executive summary it would say whether alcohol was involved.
And they were keeping those statistics. I wish I had a copy of those. I wish I knew the amount, but I can say just from my experience that alcohol wasn't necessarily always a contributing factor to the crime, but in the vast majority of cases, alcohol was involved. Someone involved in the situation in the incident had been or was drinking alcohol. It was a major problem. So would prohibiting sailors from drinking have solved those problems? Probably not. And it would have created a whole other set of issues just like the original prohibition, but it was interesting. It is interesting to me that it was such a factor.
And everyone knows alcohol inhibits your ability to make good decisions. So, there was a lot of very poor decision making. Maybe not that, you know, the perpetrator of a sexual assault got their victim drunk so that they could have sex with them and sexually assault them. That happened, but you know, that isn't the only way alcohol was involved a lot of times. It was alcohol impaired-the decision-making of a party where they did things they normally wouldn't have done. They made decisions that weren't wise, didn't help protect themselves or keep themselves safe, put them in a bad situation.
So even though I have this kind of personal belief about alcohol, I also have a professional bias against it because I saw how it impacted people's lives who-where they were destroyed. And for years they had to deal with this bad thing that happened to them, that happened because of bad choices they made because they were drunk.
Okay, so what about as an employee? And again, my perspective is as an employee who doesn't drink. In training when I was first hired as a Special Agent, we went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training academy. In training, they have a bar on the training campus. Now I'm sure the purpose of having that there was to allow people who were going to drink anyway a place where they could drink and walk back to their dorms and not drive instead of having to go out in town to a local bar. So it was probably a safety concern. But it became the social gathering place.
I don't know how many times as new agent someone from the training academy, someone in leadership came in and said, “Hey, our deputy director is coming down to visit. We're going to have a social at the bar tonight. So, all of you are welcome to come and have some drinks and meet the deputy director or meet the director.” So, the-this entire liaison networking event happened at the bar, happened with drinking.
And if you're like me you're the guy who sits-stands there with a soda, a pop, in his hand instead of alcohol. People notice that. So, from the very beginning of my career I missed out on relationship building with senior executives in the organization because I didn't drink. I was-and that sounds counterintuitive to me, the fact that I didn't drink negatively impacted my career. Because guess what? when it came to assignments, when it came to moves, when it came to promotions, no matter how much people look at your resume and just look at your qualifications, they remember those social interactions. They remember, oh yeah that guy was funny, I had a few drinks with him and we were chatting and laughing and had a good time. He's a great guy. And that person gets picked over the person who wasn't there drinking, or the person who was there but very noticeably was not drinking alcohol.
So, it built this culture that in order to get ahead, in order to advance, in order to create relationships with senior management you had to go to the bar, you had to drink. Every single one of these socials was at the bar. There were other places on the campus they could have held them. They could have had just some light snacks and waters, but they always chose to have them at the bar.
And that culture continued throughout the career. There were offices where I was stationed where on Friday nights they would go and have quote unquote “choir practice” where all of the agents would go to a bar after work on Friday to kind of let loose and get rid of the stresses of the week and just have a good time and on a social level. Well, I didn't go to those. I went home to my family. I'd worked a very long week, stressful week, hadn't seen my kids or my wife very much as I was working all week. So, I went home to my family. And I'm not saying that these aren't good family people. They love their families too. These were great people, but they made the decision to hang out after work on Fridays. I made the decision to go home. And you could argue which one is good or bad or indifferent. It doesn't matter.
The issue is, again, when leadership was at these “choir practices,” they built relationships with the people who were willing to go out drinking and not with the people weren’t. So, it had a negative impact on the culture. There became a drinkers and non-drinkers separation. So, whether you choose to do things like that, whether you have activities and you bring drinks or maybe it's just your holiday party, if you are providing alcohol to your employees or creating events where alcohol is involved, you are building a culture. Alcohol is part of your culture and you have to decide whether that's what you want or not.
Because the fact of the matter is, bad things happen when alcohol is involved. The percentage or the, uh, the risk of something bad happening goes up when people are drinking. And I don't think anyone's going to argue with that. I don't need to cite that with the study. That's-that's just common knowledge that people make poor decisions when they're drunk.
So, if you are a human resources person you know who SHRM is. They-they are a certification body for human resources professionals. They put out an article December 3rd, 2015, “Hammered at the Holiday Party?” question mark. And in this article, it talks about how to reduce your liability when you provide drinks at your holiday party. “’If possible, don't serve alcohol. Alcohol can lead to lots of problems,’ warned Jason Storipan, a New Jersey attorney with Fisher and Phillips, a labor and employment law firm.” Okay, “employees who overindulge at a work function can cost a company millions if they injure someone driving drunk, injure themselves, become belligerent and pick a fight, or behave inappropriately and invite sexual harassment charges, he said.”
That seems like a lot of risk to take on, and a lot of very easy risk to avoid. Just don't serve alcohol. Another quote, “’Alcohol is the root issue of a lot of different legal claims,’ said Nicholas J. Pappas, a partner in the employment litigation practice at Weil, Gotshal, and Manges in New York City.”
So, here's an article by SHRM basically saying you can do it if you want, but you are assuming a lot of risk and liability when you did. Here's another problem though. “Brad Karsh, CEO and founder of JB Training Solutions talks about how, you know, it's your decision as a company whether or not to serve alcohol. And then “he said he worked in the advertising industry for years and the drinks flowed freely.” quote “If they had said ‘no alcohol,’ there would have been an uprising.” So, it got to the point where the employees expected, not just expected but demanded that they have access to alcohol at functions.
So here's another quote from Karsh, “If you feel like it's part of your company culture to serve alcohol and it's something people would enjoy, you should counsel people to stay in control.” So, we're going to allow you to do this, we're going to provide it to you, but now we have to basically babysit you and manage you so that you don't get out of control because you're going to cause a lot of problems because you're drinking the alcohol that we are serving you.
And then this article goes on to talk about having insurance, actually buying insurance to protect yourself from the stupid or bad decisions people are going to make because you provided them with alcohol. I just see that as problematic.
At the end of the article there are 10 rules, 10 tips to follow if you plan on providing alcohol. Like, this just seems like more of a headache than it's worth to me, but again, I don't drink. I have no desire to so it’s harder for me to understand why it's worth all of the work and all of the risk just so people can have drinks, that they can just go home and have after the event. But I do, I understand.
I was at an-a holiday party with NCIS once. There was alcohol served. I didn't drink obviously. There was, there were games, there was the gift exchange, karaoke. And then I was a designated driver of a couple and drove them home and on the way home they said, “Wow, you had a lot of fun tonight.” I said “Yeah I did,” because I had sung karaoke and had a good time, danced. And they said, “But you didn't drink anything.” I said, “No, no I didn't.” “How did you have so much fun without drinking?” You just-just have a good time. I don’t need alcohol to have a good time, so that's my perspective.
All right, here's another article from Ethos Copywriting. This is from their blog from January 30th, 2017 titled, “How many drinks should I have at a business meeting or happy hour?” Again, for me, if you have to read an article on how many drinks that you should have at a business function, then maybe you should think about doing it; whether you should do it or not in the first place. It just seems, that just seems like a red flag to me. But again, people want to take that risk so we have to manage it; we have to work around it.
Opening line of this article, “Business meetings aren't always boring especially if there's booze involved,” implying you can't have a good time or be interested unless you're drinking. That's simply not true. I'm evidence of that.
Okay, so back to my example about NCIS and the promotion potential that comes with drinking together. Research published in Science Direct “suggests that the more drinking sessions one participates in, the better chances of that individual holding a higher ranking position at their company. In addition to bolstering your career, your indulgence in a couple cocktails could result in good friendships, stronger work connection, new and loyal clients, and a positive interlude in your work week.” That's a lot to unpack right there, but essentially now we have a reason, we have research from Science Direct that supports my experience of, as someone who was kind of left-missed out on opportunities because I didn't drink. So, that's some science that supports that.
But some of the other concerning parts of that, that you can only make good friends if you drink, you can only make strong work connections if you drink, you can only make loyal clients if you drink. Not based on the services you provide them, but because you drink together. And a “positive interlude in your work week?” The only way to have a positive interlude in your work week is by drinking? I see a lot of problems there. Again, you may choose to drink and that's fine. And you may agree with that, but the fact that you have to actually articulate it and-and kind of argue that point is problematic to me.
The article continues, “There is no doubt that your analytical problem-solving abilities will diminish when you're drinking.” Okay so your work's going to go down when you're drinking. Then it says, “However, sometimes logic is precisely what gets in the way of a solution.” Then the article goes on to argue that drinking makes you more creative and thus you're a more productive employee because you're more creative, so go ahead and drink. But just like the SHRM article, at the end there's a list of do's and don'ts. We have, like, we have to teach adults in the working world what they can or what they should and shouldn't do when they're drinking. And they have to go and read articles to learn about that. In what other aspects of our life do we treat people like that?
Do we expect they have to go and read an article on how they should behave in a certain situation? And some of these behaviors are “think before you speak, know when to leave, have something in your stomach.” So you're telling someone who's impaired to think before they speak. Well, they would be able to do that more clearly if they weren't drunk. Some of the don'ts: “don't gossip, don't talk shop the whole time, don't drink and drive.” Again, decisions. People who are inebriated and their ability to make a good decision has been impacted, you're telling them, “You need to make good decisions that a sober person would make, even though you know we know you're a drunk person at the time.”
And here's the kicker in this article that just kind of blew my mind. “It can be concluded that between .07 and 0.08 BAC is optimal for creative problem solving tasks and still keeping a relatively level head.” So being legally drunk will make you a better employee, but don't get behind the wheel of a car because you might kill someone. This is a kind of blows my mind.
The website Inc, I-N-C, has an article, “How to Lead a Successful Business Meeting Over Drinks.” Again, you know how to lead a business meeting, you know what to do, but if you're going to have a drinks you have to go and look up an article on what to do because you can't trust yourself to make good decisions when you're drinking.
So one of my experiences or one of the places that I worked when I was with NCIS was in Sicily, where every single meeting happens either over coffee or wine. If you go out to dinner with someone in Sicily the wine is cheaper than the water. I don't know how many times I had to explain that I don't drink, even to co-workers who knew it. I would go to a bar in the morning, which is want they call a cafe a coffee bar, and he would he would order me a café and I would say, “You know I don't drink coffee.” (because I don't drink coffee either, again, a personal decision). I would order a fresh squeezed orange juice which in Sicily is one of the best things in the world. Why you wouldn't want that every morning is beyond me! The fresh oranges and blood oranges are amazing! But he couldn't understand it. He was Italian and his whole life, every decision, everything had been made over drinks. So, it can be difficult it can be difficult to explain, especially in a different language. If you're dealing with clients or partners from another culture, another language it can be tough. I understand that.
What is clear from the articles I've found is that drinking and providing alcohol or drinking during a business function creates a lot of problems, creates a lot of misconduct situations. And that's why there are so many articles about rules, things you should follow, getting insurance, your liability, taking on risk. So, that's a decision that your organization needs to make. Is that part, is that the company culture that you want? Is that risk that you're willing to take on? Is that liability that you're willing to take on just so that people can have a “good time?”
And that's up to you to decide. But, going back to the title of the segment, “If I Were in Charge,” I would say that the risk outweighs the benefits, and not just financially or legally. But if I had one employee who wasn't sexually assaulted, who avoided being sexually assaulted because no one was drunk at the party at the company party, to me that's worth it. That's worth the grumbling of people saying this party is boring, this function is boring. There's other things that you can do to make a party fun and exciting but just preventing one person from having to live with the fact that a co-worker or a boss assaulted them on company time is worth the grumbling. It's worth the groaning. It's worth the complaints of, “I'm a square and I'm no fun.” So, that's me. If I were in charge. You can call me a teetotaler. You can say that I'm totally out of touch with reality and with the world that we live in. That's fine. This is-this isn't a segment called, “If You Were in Charge,” this is, “If I Were in Charge.” I would not assume that risk.
I've seen way too many cases where alcohol was involved, either used as a weapon to put someone in a vulnerable position, or people made poor choices because of it and then excused-and then used it as an excuse later. “Oh, it was the alcohol. He's-he or she's not normally that way. They wouldn't normally say that. They were drunk.” Well, how does that-when you're looking at a misconduct case, when you're investigating something, the fact that someone wouldn't “normally” do it has no bearing on the outcome. Your decision on whether or not it happened is simply that. Does the evidence support that this happened?
And it doesn't matter if the person's drunk. That's not an excuse. If that person failed to read and follow the 50 articles that they looked up on Google on how to handle alcohol at a business meeting, that is not an excuse for misconduct. You are never going to dismiss a case because the person was drunk. It's not a defense, yet companies do it all the time and that's not okay, and it's a problem. Which is why if I were in charge, I wouldn’t have alcohol at company functions.
Let me know what you think. I know there are people out there that disagree with me and that's fine. I'm basing this off of my experience there are a lot of cases that I've seen that could have been avoided, trauma that people could have not had to live with if alcohol weren't involved. So, I think I'm coming from a very good place in my argument. I think it's a pretty strong argument. But, I understand that you could disagree.
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