We’ve just fired someone for drinking – alcohol, that is – at work. Although we’ve got a zero- tolerance policy towards on-site consumption of alcohol and drugs, to my knowledge this is the first time it’s ever been applied. Which has got me thinking how far the industry must have evolved since the infamously booze-fuelled working practices of the 90s.
This recent incident has prompted the sharing of a few anecdotes around our boardroom table. Take the load-in for the Asia-Europe Meeting’s annual summit (ASEM) in 1998, when 120 tons of incorrectly-loaded MDF was dumped at the side of the street outside the QEII Centre and 3,000 metres of timber was delivered in lengths too long to fit into the building. The two production managers who should have been in charge had both disappeared off to the pub at the start of the evening. They staggered back around midnight, so wasted that they had to be led away. Meanwhile, we had to make desperate calls throughout the night to source a qualified tree surgeon and an extra 90 crew to rescue the job.
Fast forward two months to Cardiff, where the company contracted to build staging for the closing ceremony of the UK’s EU presidency decided to cut costs by crewing the operation with a gang of bikers. As a precaution – and again, to save money – hotel staff were instructed to empty the bikers’ mini bars. You can imagine how pleased the “crew” were, coming back at the end of a hard day’s graft, to discover their fridges empty. In fact, they all went berserk and trashed their rooms, providing the national press with a juicy postscript to the formal reporting of the event.
Of course, those hangover-ridden days when heavy drinking was part of work-place culture are well and truly behind us. The swaggering characters of the Mad Men era, who kept a glass of Scotch clamped in their hands and weren’t around to phone after lunch, would never keep their jobs in today’s high-performance environment.
Even so, just this year a prominent London venue was compelled to introduce an alcohol ban, having experienced issues around excessive consumption. So it seems there are still some people crossing the blurry line between out-of-hours socialising and not being able to function at work.
It’s hard to object to a round of drinks as the natural tension-reliever after pulling-off a complex event. And it’s the accepted norm to build business relationships over a glass of wine and dinner. But. Those scenarios are a far cry from project-managing when you’re unable to stand, or turning up for work at 9am honking of the hard stuff. With so much more at stake these days, no business can afford to employ a drunk.
Factors such as the tightening of health and safety legislation, and a city-led, risk-averse approach to business, have channelled the people holding the purse strings into a far less forgiving mindset.
And after the economic peaks and troughs of the 90s, the new century unfolded in a more sober mood altogether. Since 2008, wages have stagnated while costs have risen, eroding most people’s disposable income. So it’s hardly surprising that the official statistics show a decline in alcohol consumption across the board since 2002. Except in Glasgow!
Not forgetting the millennials, who reportedly take their health and wellbeing far more seriously than their parents did, and are more likely to invest spare cash on gym membership or travel, than pour it down their throats.
All of which leaves me wondering – can we pat ourselves on the back for maturing into a more prudent and responsible industry? Or are we still dealing with a generational custom that refuses to die out? With that in mind, it seems only right to end on a borrowed line from Johnny Vegas: “My dad died of Cirrhosis of the Liver … it’s what he would have wanted.”