A reader asks:
What’s your take on being hungover at work? I’m asking specifically about in an office situation where nothing truly bad will happen if someone has reduced concentration.
I manage a team of six employees and over any given month, one or two of them will have a hangover each week. In our city, there’s a culture of going out drinking after work, and in some of the worst offices I’ve worked previously a hangover is even seen as a badge of pride.
Mostly the hangovers are just the mildly sweaty, slumped over their desks sort, and I’m not worried that anyone in the team has an alcohol problem (having experienced that with a colleague at a previous job, this is different).
Sometimes the hangovers are work-related, if there’s been a work event with lots of free alcohol provided by the company or by other organizations that we are expected to network with.
Added to this is that I’m a teetotaler and have been for over a decade, and I worry that I’ll be seen a prudish or judgemental, which I’m not; I just can’t drink for medical reasons.
Is it reasonable to tell my team that I expect them to be clear-headed when they come to work each day? Or am I interfering with their personal lives?
It’s not okay to come into work hungover.
It’s one thing if it happens very rarely by accident; sometimes people just drink more than intended or didn’t realize their stomach was so empty or so forth. But one or two people on a team of six coming in hungover every single week? So on average each person coming to work hungover every three to six weeks?
That’s really not okay. And the fact that they’re apparently open about it around you, their boss, is troubling, because it says that they don’t care how cavalier it makes them look about their jobs.
It’s not interfering with their personal lives to expect people to show up at work clear-headed and ready to work. If someone were, say, playing video games all night and coming into work on no sleep — and it showed in their demeanor, energy, and ability to focus and be productive — you’d be on firm ground in saying, “Hey, it’s up to you what you do in your off-hours, but when you come to work, I need you to be awake and focused.” It’s the same thing here.
And you don’t need to relax those expectations just because the drinks were consumed at a work event. It’s reasonable to expect people not to drink to excess at a work event, and to control their drinking to whatever extent is necessary to ensure they can still function at work the next day.
So yes, the next time someone comes in hungover, take that person aside and say, “This has been happening frequently, it’s impacting your work, and it can’t continue. I need you to show up at work clear-headed and ready to work, and if that means you need to manage your drinking differently, consider this notice that you need to do that. You can’t keep showing up at work hungover.” Repeat as needed with the others.
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