Career coach: The darker side of celebrations

Christmas cheer could mask workers' problems with drink or substances.

The festive season is upon us - a phrase that I'm sure will have equal numbers of you groaning and cheering. I shuttle between both responses on an hourly basis but, overall, I love this season.

However, I work in the City of London, and something happens each year that never fails to shock as the party season descends.

The ambience changes entirely and City workers, usually sleekly proficient, transform into street-brawling, staggering drunks. And that's just in the middle of the day.

By the evening, the area becomes a contemporary take on Hogarth's Gin Lane. Bright young things in crumpled Armani suits lie face down on the pavement surrounded by broken glass; dishevelled, mascara-streaked women stand screaming abuse down their mobile phones.

We've all seen (or been) these people, and I know I could be describing any British town on a Saturday night. It is, however, incongruous in the City to witness a 24-hour party scene for one month a year when the other 11 are relatively tranquil. It will all soon pass, and calm will return in January.

However, this level of partying can reflect hidden problems, because you only have to scratch the veneer of most respectable institutions to discover the lake of alcohol and mountain of white powder.

All of which leads me to wonder whether you have experienced or considered the impact of a member of your staff attending work under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

Whatever the reason for someone's usage, chief executives are under a legal duty to ensure the safety of anyone who could be affected by your organisation. Someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol can create high risks for your organisation. Colleagues sometimes cover up for someone who is liked, so take notice of your nagging doubts if you believe someone is behaving unusually.

Take into account that symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse can be similar to those of stress, depression, anxiety or mental illness, and proceed carefully and always with the support of your trustees.

If you don't have one in place, the careful creation of an alcohol and drugs policy is advisable.

It is important that it should not diminish the trust and confidence of your staff, but leave no room for misunderstanding. In the current climate, the time for informal understandings about alcohol and drugs should be over.

  • Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives.

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