The announcement this week that Lloyd’s of London has banned booze during office hours adds to the slightly Orwellian atmosphere currently infiltrating 2017.
It smacks of a nanny-state approach, using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and as a recovering alcoholic myself, I don’t think it’ll work. Why not? Because you don’t change behaviour, let alone one so culturally deep-rooted in a sector as drinking is within the City, by attempting to ban it.
I’ve been sober seven years now, but was drinking throughout my twenties while working in record shops and for a music festival prior to “getting a grown-up job” and starting out in the world of PR. Drinking in the shop was fine – it was a small indie store and quite frankly it added spice to the arguments with customers about which of On The Beach or After The Goldrush was Neil Young’s finest hour. Plus, at the time, there was little else to do – this was definitely pre-vinyl revival. At the music festival drinking was practically part of the job spec.
Moving into PR, entertaining became par for the course, and it turned out that it’s a good industry to work in if you want to hide a major drinking problem. Pockets full of Lockets were a poor attempt, in hindsight, at covering the red wine fug.
Eventually, addiction took an inevitable turn into mental health issues and I was signed off work. On returning, I faced a ban on drinking during the day – much like the staff at Lloyd’s now face. This was an initiative I agreed with HR and was sacrosanct to my remaining employed with the company.
I guess it stopped long lunches, but I was an evening drinker (albeit heavily), and so banning me during the day meant I felt ostracised from peers who were given free rein. It also meant that rather than pacing, I went hell for leather on weekends when I was allowed lunchtime drinking – but that’s a personal element, rather than a sweeping generalisation across all concerned.
The issue with the ban is that Lloyd’s suggests it is being brought in due to a high number of HR incidents related to alcohol, but that only tells half the story. There is an underlying issue which is fuelling the drinking and, rather than tackle the symptom, Lloyd’s needs to look at the cause. It may be as seemingly innocent as the entertaining culture which client-facing industries – especially those with big budgets such as financial services – have to embrace. It may be more sinister and be found in the stressful environment and workplace egomania that is often seen from outside the City.
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Either way, simply cutting out a venting mechanism will push much of it underground. Those who find a drink helps calm them will have to find another outlet, which risks exacerbating the problem into a company-wide whack-a-mole.
The drinking culture at Lloyd’s isn’t a purely wanton exercise collectively agreed upon by its participants in order to anger HR. It’s endemic and part of the fabric of the City – it always has been, and to try to alter that is futile and highly unlikely to have any (positive) effect. Some people may leave for a more relaxed environment; some may simply “work from home” more often or arrange more “client meetings” externally.
If there’s a drinking problem, it has a cause. Tackling the symptom is a myopic and simplistic approach and it’ll backfire.