Majority of HR professionals approve of Lloyd’s policy; alcohol problems in the workplace ‘are increasing’

A leading business’s ban on employees consuming alcohol during working hours has been broadly welcomed by HR professionals and employment experts, despite the divisive debate it has sparked in wider society.

Insurance market Lloyd’s of London – one of the capital’s highest- profile employers – has implemented a policy requiring staff not to drink on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, to enable them to concentrate on “more important things”. Those who flaunt the ban could face disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal for gross misconduct.

A poll of People Management readers found that 69 per cent believe Lloyd’s actions are a ‘sensible step’, while only 29 per cent feel they went too far.  

The ban was introduced after an analysis of disciplinary cases over the last two years found that “roughly half” were related to alcohol misuse at the firm. It has been included in the employee handbook, and forms part of a broader HR policy review conducted during 2016.

Many of Lloyd’s of London’s 800 employees, however, said they were not consulted on the matter and that they were currently able to drink “responsibly” during work hours. Some called the measure “heavy handed” in comments on the company’s intranet, with one adding: “The vast majority of my colleagues know how to drink responsibly during work hours, and would never let their lunch-hour socialising affect their work or decision-making.”

The HR profession has extensively debated reducing both the number of policies inside organisations, and its own role in setting and enforcing such policies. But some commentators said this particular measure should be welcomed as a response to an ongoing ‘drinking culture’ in London’s financial services industry.

Laura Willoughby, who founded Club Soda – which City workers can join to combat their dependence on alcohol – said many firms were looking to change their culture around alcohol. She said: “Companies are now thinking about their internal culture, and are considering the diversity of the City. They want to recruit young talent, and under-25s are now drinking less than other age groups.

“Employers also want to recruit people from diverse backgrounds, and there are a larger number of people not drinking for health and religious reasons. It’s a British thing that we commiserate and celebrate with alcohol, but companies are finding it’s not necessarily inclusive.”

David Buik, a market commentator at investment bank Panmure Gordon, said: “Life is so professionally competitive now that few people working in banks or in brokers want to drink during the week.”

Alan Price, chief executive of HR consultancy Croner Group, said his company was receiving an increased number of calls about alcohol issues in the workplace, and that many financial services firms, including major insurer Hiscox, already had similar policies.

Price said: “While an effective policy should be drafted in a way that allows disciplinary action to be taken against an employee who breaches it, it should also aim to encourage employees to seek support if needed.  

“Simply having a policy will not prevent alcohol drinking, so employers need to enforce it. Staff should be trained on the policy and it should contain the immediate measures the employer will take if the employee has been drinking during the working day.”