Addiction is a family disease, even in the workplace.
The Workplace Culture of Drinking in the UK, China, Japan, Korea, and Australia
Wondering how you’re going to stay sober or semi-sober at your holiday work party? You’re not the only one! Lots of people feel the pressure to drink dialed up during corporate events. Alcohol is a deeply ingrained part of many workplace cultures, at the organizational level, industry level, and even national level. Let’s take a look at that last one. Break out your passport and join us as we take a world tour of countries with strong corporate drinking cultures.
Employees across the pond are filling their cups with more than just tea. In Britain, booze and business bump heads regularly, with a recent think tank report finding that a whopping 40% of employees consider drinking an important part of workplace culture, and nearly half of young workers considering not drinking to be a barrier to fitting in socially at work. Blimey!
Booze Barometer: 🍷🍷
This Chinese saying, “No social ties can be formed in the absence of alcohol.” is a bit of a bummer for those of us who know otherwise. So is this Wall Street Journal perspective: “At a Chinese banquet, a person who does not touch alcohol at all while others are drinking is regarded more or less as an outcast.” Idioms and anecdotes aside, alcohol has a definite presence in Chinese business etiquette, with toasting often used to seal deals.
Booze Barometer: 🍷🍷🍷
Alcohol plays a role in corporate bonding. According to BBC, in Japan “the best way to offer an employee feedback is simple: take them out drinking.” Yikes! The alcoholics in recovery among us would beg to differ. On a brighter note, the government recently issued a crackdown outlining specific goals to knock a few percents off the rate of excessive drinkers by 2020.
Booze Barometer: 🍷 🍷
The corporate drinking culture in Korea is intense, but they’ve recently dropped the “forced after-hours drinking“. Seems like a wise move. The demanding drinking standards have also relaxed as professional women have climbed the ranks and influenced businesses to tone it down. Women in the workplace have made creative ways to cut back mainstream, like pouring drinks into flower pots. Hey, we get it. Do what you gotta do.
Booze Barometer: 🍷🍷🍷
Alcohol is causing some chaos at offices down under. As reported by the Australian Drug Foundation alcohol abuse costs employers over $6 billion per year and even messes with sacred Aussie mateships; 1 in 10 workers reported being negatively affected by a coworker’s misuse. Crikey!
Booze Barometer: 🍷
That’s all for our world tour for now. Hopefully that sheds some perspective on your office holiday party. If not, we’ve got your back; check out our secrets to enjoying holiday work parties sober.
The Scientific Research Behind Being a Team at Work
Two fish are swimming together in the ocean. The first fish turns to the other and, to make small talk, asks, “How’s the water?” The second fish replies, “What the hell is water?”
This parable highlights a strange truth: When we are completely immersed in something, we cease to notice it. For us as employees, this is our workplace culture. Our company culture is defined by the prevalent values, beliefs, rules, and expectations.
Culture is the water in which we swim. It is all around us, and its quality affects our worldview, relationships, choices, and overall wellbeing.
How powerful is workplace culture? How much do people allow their actions to be shaped by others? The famous Asch experiment painted a picture that is downright scary:
Participants were given a simple matching task with an obvious correct answer. For example, given the below image, they would be asked to match the line on the left with the matching line on the right, based on length:
When peers before them agreed on an incorrect answer (as part of the experiment), participants themselves tended to conform and submit the same wrong response.
Take a second and let that sink in. Even when the answer is clear as day, most participants chose to conform instead of trusting their basic senses. It wasn't for lack of intellect, either. This study was conducted at Swarthmore College, a strong liberal arts institution.
This is the reason why so many individual interventions fail. The cultural pull to behave in old patterns is like a magnet. Psychology has demonstrated time and time again that going against others’ expectations takes tremendous emotional and mental energy. It is much easier and more comfortable on many levels to just go with the flow, rather than risk alienation by the group.
If social influence can be so strong in very clear-cut situations, what happens when the answer is not so clear and we are faced with social pressure? What happens when we want to behave differently but the culture around us pushes us to act in old, unhealthy ways?
Well, in no uncertain terms: We almost always fail.
Psychologist Kurt Lewin asserted that an individual’s behavior is a function of their personality and the environment. The environment does not determine our actions, per se, but it has a very strong influence on them, especially when we are not aware of its pull.
This is why great leaders obsess about creating positive culture. This is why progressive HR departments put such a strong emphasis on shaping healthy structure for their talent.
At Workit Health, we suggest that enhancing Substance Wellbeing® is a natural starting point for this process. We know now that addictive behaviors affect a huge percentage of the workforce, at great personal cost to the people of the organization. Even when an employee does not struggle personally, often someone they care about does. When this is the case, the culture around these individuals can have a drastic influence on their ability to overcome addictive behavior or cope with a loved one’s struggles.
Look around the office and ask yourself: Is there support to make a healthy change, or does my workplace culture reinforce the problems people experience? Is there peer pressure, for example, to drink alcohol at happy hour events? Are healthy eaters forced to choose between compromising their goals or dining alone?
It’s a difficult problem to tackle, because culture and social norms run deep. We believe that growing our collective awareness is a reasonable first step. This article is written in the hope that you might see your interactions with colleagues in a different lens, if only for a day.
After all, everyone contributes to culture. Even if you are not pushing to reduce bad habits or old patterns, you can participate positively by supporting others in their efforts.
So, how will you shape your team’s culture today?
What is "Internet Addiction"?
A bit of a misnomer, to start. Back when it was first noticed that people were having issues with internet usage resembling offline behavioral addictions, expert opinion branched into two: either the internet itself was addictive in nature, or it was serving as a facilitator for actual addictive behaviors (many of which can also be found offline, like gambling or shopping). To date, the latter explanation has garnered the most research support.1 Ubiquitous but still offering a level of discretion, the internet is a naturally convenient gateway for addictive behaviors. In the workplace, the slippery slope often starts with internet misuse, which typically falls into five subtypes: 2
1. Computer Gaming
2. Information Overload (excessive web surging or database scouring)
3. Net Compulsions (e.g. gambling, shopping, day trading)
4. Cyber Sexual Behavior
5. Cyber Social/Relationship Behavior
When excessive misuse escalates into full-fledged addiction, it has all the usual components like obsession, loss of control, mood modification, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. It also has many of the same potential negative impacts for businesses, including reduced productivity, hampered employee morale, strained "in real life" relationships, and heightened risks, particularly regarding legal liability and IT security. It has been suggested that internet misuse alone is a significant systems risk that many organizations are insufficiently addressing.3
What Employers Can Do
For many employers, managing internet misuse and addiction can feel like a curve ball. It's a relatively new issue and one that has not yet worked itself into frequent mainstream HR conversation. Plus, for most of us, the internet is a perfectly benign necessity! As with most addictive behaviors, there's still a lot of stigma and confusion around the topic. Fortunately, there are options out there to help you tackle both internet misuse and addiction. Below are a few tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Pioneer with Policy
Internet misuse is a relatively new issue, so many employees will have no idea what expectations are unless they are clearly communicated and enforced. A thorough internet use policy sets clear expectations around work usage, personal usage, and prohibited usage, and explains how compliance will be monitored and enforced.
Tip #2: Monitor and Block
Although putting a sound policy in place is an essential protocol, some research suggests it's the least effective measure to quelling internet misuse. The most effective? Monitoring employee use for a time period, then blocking non-work sites accordingly.4 That said, when using this tactic, it's important to be respectful of employee privacy and rights; infringing on either can have a negative impact on morale that far outweighs the benefits of reducing misuse. At the very least, inform your employees about how they are being monitored and take measures to secure buy in. There's no need to turn into Big Brother! Besides, sometimes just being aware of monitoring can cut down on misuse, even before the blocking happens.
Tip #3: Recognize the Difference Between Misuse and Addiction
There is a big difference between your average or even severe case of internet misuse, and a case of internet addiction. Both require HR management but with different approaches. Internet misuse is a widespread and serious problem, costing employers billions in productivity annually, 5 ramping up network expenses, and contributing significantly to disciplinary actions and termination.6 The latter is a serious health condition that qualifies under ADA. If you suspect an employee is struggling with an internet addiction, proceed with the same caution as you would with any other addiction.7
1 Griffiths, Mark. "Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace." Journal of Workplace Learning 22.7 (2010): 463-472. 2 Grifﬁths, M.D. (2004), “Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace – issues and concerns for employers”, in Anandarajan, M. (Ed.), Personal Web Usage in the Workplace: A Guide to Effective Human Resource Management, Idea Publishing, Hershey, PA, pp. 230-45. 3 Young, K. (1999), “Internet addiction: evaluation and treatment”, Student British Medical Journal, ol. 7, pp. 351-2. 4 Mirchandani, D. and Motwani, J. (2003), “Reducing internet abuse in the workplace”, SAM Advanced Management Journal, Vol. 68, pp. 22-7. 5 Stewart, F. (2000). “Internet Acceptable Use Policies: Navigating the Management, Legal, and Technical Issues.” Information Systems Security, Volume Nine, Number Three, 46-53 6 Websense Inc, (2000). “Survey on Internet Misuse in the Workplace.” March 2000, 1-6. 7 Americans with Disabilities Act. Internet Addiction, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Employment, GPSolo Magazine, Vol.32, No. 3 (May/June 2015).
Prevention for Substance Use Works!
Let’s take a look at a significant opportunity concerning substance wellbeing in the workplace: prevention. If we can reach people earlier in the progression of their struggles with alcohol and other drugs, we can improve outcomes, avoid downstream consequences, and help individuals re-direct their energies towards thriving at their place of employment. Just talking about prevention, however, summons a very real concern: existing methods aren’t working. Why? They’re antiquated and aimed at adolescents, to start. We’re talking D.A.R.E here. As the USA Today told us in 1993, and the Government Accounting Office in 2003 (as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association): “DARE doesn’t work.” And they are right.
The bulk of preventive programming targeting substance use and substance wellbeing has been developed for adolescents. There are a variety reasons behind this situation. Earlier onset of risky substance use is strongly correlated with future severity. In light of this, early intervention makes sense. Additionally, since adolescents are legally dependent individuals, the burden of promoting future health is felt even more strongly by providers and caregivers. Large-scale initiatives are also politically popular – they communicate to the broader public that policy makers are doing something about real, and felt, crises in many peoples’ communities. Prevention, for youths, has thus largely been understood as an educational challenge. If individuals are equipped with a richer understanding of the perils and pitfalls of risky substance use, they will rationally elect to avoid those behaviors.
The manifest failings of this approach are both evident and widely acknowledged. Telling people about potential future difficulties (and about the dire consequences that attend some of those challenges) does little to modify behavior. Ask any wellness specialist or HR Director anywhere: do dark tales of future woe delivered to your population guide behavior? Where preventive programming is limited to educational endeavors, we can expect minimal impact.
Fortunately, prevention doesn’t have to mean warnings of future catastrophes. This is partly a problem of the stark binaries that inform actual practices in the field. Elsewhere we have talked about the limits of abstinent/using frameworks. Similarly, prevention shouldn’t be understood as something that takes place far in advance of “the problem.” Instead prevention should include the suite of measures that prevent a recognized concern from developing the full set of potential consequences.
In the workplace, prevention isn’t just about stopping risky use of alcohol and drugs before they begin. It is about educating employees to recognize when their behaviors are becoming risky and empowering them to take responsibility for the situation. That means prevention isn’t a matter of telling people what could go wrong. It has to be more nuanced, and more detailed. Prevention includes translating warning signs into concrete actions: helping individuals recognize building challenges and offering tools to revise behavior. The old, and moralistic way, was to “wait until it got bad enough that assistance was unavoidable.” Of course, this often has catastrophic results, and can be years in the making. The compassionate revision of this approach was to “bring the bottom up,” that is to say, to help people see where they were headed and reverse course earlier. A value-neutral, quality-of-life enhancing program goes several steps further: meet people where they are, ask them what they want, strategize how to achieve those goals.
A robust substance use prevention program is highly visible, readily accessible and intimately responsive. Everybody knows about it, it is easy to get to, and it feels (and is) tailored to personal needs. It doesn’t look like pro forma zero tolerance policy announcements (even where zero tolerance is a necessary standard), it isn’t dry and disconnected health lectures, and it certainly isn’t waiting until the crisis is so acute and so unavoidable that it demands action.
In political and policy discussions, preventive health makes for a great sound bite. It promises to save money, it is clearly underutilized, and it looks like a solution. Back in the heated political climate of the 2008 presidential election, Joshua Cohen, Peter Neumann, and Milton Weinstein argued in the pages of The New England Journal of Medicine that these claims were often overstated. In their widely cited piece, however, they exempted several areas where the benefits are unmistakable: tobacco cessation, dietary interventions, exercise programs and alcohol overuse. Substance use prevention works. But it isn’t easy to do. When addressing alcohol and drug use, effective workplace policies aren’t enough – sophisticated programming to place employees in the driver’s seat, in their own health decisions, needs to become the gold standard approach.