Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Raise the Bottom--Book Review

Recognizing alcoholism in the workplace.

In addition to all the other damage they do, alcoholics can literally cost businesses a fortune, says marketing consultant Arthur M. Jackson in his new book, Raise the Bottom. As a means of helping employers identify the problem, Jackson offers a checklist of early, middle and late-stage alcoholic behaviors, from drinking everyone under the table, to blame games, to personal financial problems.

The litany is at times simplistic, and the book is written in the Kenneth Blanchard “One-Minute-Manager” style of easily digestible business books, with a fictional senior consultant doling out data to his fictional protégé. Nonetheless, the author manages to impart some useful information, and draws attention to a problem most people choose to avoid or ignore—the toll active alcoholism takes on workplace efficiency and trust.

Physical early warning signs to watch for, Jackson writes, include a family history of alcoholism, “pre-drinking” before social functions, frequent lying, and cigarette smoking (a majority of alcoholics smoke cigarettes). These are all valid potential red flags, but often difficult to discern in a workplace setting.

Alcoholism is more likely to show itself in the middle stage, when “quotas go unmet, goals unachieved, and promises not kept.” At this stage, bosses and managers are likely to help the alcoholic with his excuses, agreeing that he or she is having an “off year,” or “problems at home.” Indeed, multiple divorces and increasing financial difficulties often accompany the progression of addictive disease.

The author leaves no doubt about where he stands on the disease debate: “We don’t punish someone for having a disease. We separate the alcoholic behavior from the alcoholic... The maladaptive and negative behaviors, and the poor business results following from them, must face direct consequences or they will continue.”

Two other maladaptive behaviors characteristic of the middle stage are “sexual exploitation” and “road rage,” writes Jackson. As odd as this may sound, I think the author is right here. Both behaviors—compulsive promiscuity and episodes of instinctual rage--can be seen as impulse control problems, which alcoholics often exhibit.

As the middle stage increasingly leads to poor job performance and declining results, “the downward slide of the progression begins to be noticeable to others, although the cause—alcoholism—is still well hidden most of the time.” The presence of the “pink elephant in the office” goes unaddressed—and things get worse.

Sensibly, the author notes that a single DUI or DWI does not prove the case for alcoholism. However, landing a second DUI, or continuing to regularly drink while driving, may be another matter entirely.

Jackson is a firm believer in early intervention on the part of friends, family, and coworkers. Moreover, “The job lever—the risk of losing his job because of alcoholism—can have a crucial effect.” Jackson’s two-word prescription: “Stop enabling.” By recognizing potential alcoholism and moving toward treatment rather than turning away, workers can break through the conspiracy of silence and help “raise the bottom” for alcoholics--saving their jobs, their relationships, and often their lives.

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