How to Handle a Boozing Boss

By Paula Santonocito

smw - boozing bossQ. My boss has a drinking problem. It’s been impacting the workplace for a while, but recently it took a more serious turn. Last week, a group of us found ourselves in the car with her at the wheel after a business luncheon and she was clearly impaired. Shouldn’t this be brought to someone’s attention? By the way, she also happens to be a site manager, so her boss is rarely around.

A.  Alcohol abuse is a huge problem in the United States. One study finds that nearly one in three Americans becomes dependent on alcohol at some point in life—and most people never seek treatment.

Alcohol affects the workplace in terms of errors and lost productivity, and in fact the impact is significant. According to another study, employee alcoholism and drug abuse costs companies an estimated $200 billion annually.

Today, many employers have written policies that address alcohol and drug abuse. Companies also provide resources so workers can get the help they need.

Yet, even the best efforts can’t serve as a cure-all.

The situation you describe, where your boss is a site manager, is somewhat unique in that, because her superiors may not know she has a problem, it’s more of a problem for you and your coworkers. But the fact that she works at a remote location also presents an opportunity for you as an employee to address the situation.

Why should you?

Your life was put in jeopardy because you were a passenger in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated boss. That’s number one. You’re fine now, sure. But what if it happens again? What if there’s an accident and a coworker is killed? Will you then wish you’d talked to someone?

This is the main issue. However, there is a secondary one that is also important. Your work performance filters through your boss. All the hard work and effort put forth by everyone in your department gets presented under the umbrella of her leadership. If her ability to lead is impaired, your career advancement gets impaired. By speaking up, you’re looking out for yourself and the team, and ultimately the company as a whole.

Where do you start?

Make an appointment to speak with someone in human resources, face-to-face. Let the person you talk with know you are speaking to him or her in confidence, out of concern for your manager, your coworkers, and her boss.

And this is where location works to your advantage. Explain that because your manager’s boss works at another location, s/he may not even be aware of the situation and this is why you are reaching out. Then emphasize that the situation is serious. Share the business luncheon story, and point out that it’s part of a pattern.

All the while, be sure to let human resources know that you care about your boss, your coworkers, and the company. If you present the situation in this way, you will come across as someone who is trying to help, and the company in turn will do its best to get your boss the help she needs.

Have a question? Email Paula here.

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