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Coping with a toxic boss: “AL THE ALCOHOLIC”

By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.

As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years.  In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
 
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, and Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, and Ian the Idea Stealer.

 This week I discuss one of the most difficult bosses to deal with — Al the Alcoholic.  Addiction usually has a genetic pre-disposition, so you can see it manifested in generations of their relatives or their biological children who have addictions to one or more of the following: booze, cocaine, marijuana, prescription drugs, shopping, food, gambling, sex, love, exercise, work, collecting things, hoarding, and the list goes on. For the purpose of this column, the alcoholic will be the focus.  
 
SITUATION: Al the Alcoholic shows up for work looking drunk or reeking of alcohol, hung over, looking and sounding sloppy and/or slurring his words. Al can be secretly or overtly drinking, taking three martini lunches, and/or nipping from a bottle in his desk throughout the day. His work is suffering, you find yourself covering for Al, whether he asks you to or not, and doing his work for him, and then getting blamed for his mistakes. You just can’t do it any more. You must take immediate action!  Al is usually in denial about his drinking and his behavior is a cry for help although he won’t admit it.  He needs to have an ultimatum put to him to wake him out of his denial and you and/or HR can do that for him.  
 
Al has a physiological problem and all the counseling in the world is not going to solve it until he realizes he is in trouble. He has to want to get help himself.  Al needs to “hit bottom” and/or have a “moment of clarity” – that happens when and only when he wakes up in a bed next to someone he doesn’t know, comes to in a gutter, or sees his car dented and has no memory of an accident.  Much of that behavior can occur during a “black out” – where Al can be signing contracts, going to meetings, or driving a car, yet has no recollection of any of that. A black out is usually a sign of advanced stages of alcoholism. 
 
Al has a physiological problem and needs to get the booze out of his system at a rehab facility.  Al can even stop drinking – which is known as being a “dry drunk” – but his alcoholic personality remains: insecure, egotistical, grandiose, hypersensitive, irrational, prickly, throwing temper tantrums, and full of anxiety, depression, and mood swings. 
 
Al has to have the “willingness” to change. He can have a “moment of clarity” – when he realizes that his drinking is going to kill him or someone else. You can assist him in to get closer to that moment of clarity by confronting him, giving him support, taking him to a 12 Step meeting, and/ or reporting it to HR. Since Al is your boss, you may fear being fired and you may want the protection of HR to do it for you. You may want to confront Al together with the HR director. If you do so, have all the proof you need. Present him and/or the HR director with a list of all the transgressions with date, time and place – when he showed up late, reeking of alcohol, forgetting deadlines and meetings, failing to perform, slurring his words, etc.
 
EXPLANATION: Al the Alcoholic is usually in massive denial. He minimizes, rationalizes, projects blame on others, insists nothing is wrong and tells you that he can control his drinking, he can handle it, and that he is fine. Debunking his excuses is like being at the Dodgers’ spring training camp and up against the automatic pitching machine – you have to hit each one of his excuses out of the park. 
 
Deep down, Al really knows the truth and his outrageous behavior is a “cry for help.” Al is unconsciously begging people to do something because he is incapable of admitting that he has a serious problem. He needs an intervention from family, friends, and/or co-workers. He needs to enter a residential treatment and a 12 Step AA program immediately. 
 
If not, he can be dangerous to his employees, peers, superiors, and other co-workers.  Al can have yelling and screaming fits, get into physical fights, miss deadlines, sabotage your work, and lose the company millions of dollars in absenteeism, accidents, and other liabilities. He can also cause deaths in drunk driving accidents–his own and others.
 
SOLUTION: Since Al is your boss, you may choose to go to HR.  If you like and want to protect your boss from being written up and if you think HR could also fire him, you may want to talk to Al privately – over lunch, after work, or out of the office entirely.
 
If you choose to talk to him by yourself, have your letter written up and tell him that you need to read it completely from start to finish. Ask him to listen and then you can have a dialogue. The letter should include every single instance of when his alcoholism interfered with his work – coming in hung over and late, reeking of alcohol, forgetting assignments and deadlines, accidents, slurring his speech, etc. Remember, he may have been in a black out for most of these occurrences and has no conscious memory of it.
 
You will be doing Al a favor and saving lives when you confront him – either individually and privately, or with HR. 
 
Remember, HR may send Al a letter and ignore the problem totally. They may order him to an “alcohol education program” – and all the while Al is still drinking. They may also sweep it under the carpet, and insist that they “handled” it with Al. That leaves Al a danger to himself and others.  He needs a residential de-tox center of at least 28 days. Ninety (90) days is the optimum, with follow up at daily AA meetings, a sponsor, and 12 Step Study Meetings. He will have to take a leave of absence from work for about 30-90 days. Most insurance policies will cover it.
 
If HR handles it, ask to be included in the session. They may refuse because of legalities.
 
So give them all your documentation of Al’s transgressions – coming in late and hung over, missing deadlines, forgetting his assignments, etc. You must submit proof. If you have co-workers who will submit similar letters, by all means, give them to the HR director. They will need all the proof the can gather.  
 
You can take Al to a 12 Step meeting and AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, and you may even want to go with him to a meeting. Tell Al that he will need to find a sponsor who is the same gender and who has years of sobriety. Al may need to go to a de-tox center or rehab facility for 30-90 days or more to get the drugs and chemicals out of his body and do it under medical supervision. There is a listing of addiction centers in the appendix of my book.  Al must be personally escorted to and checked into the rehab center. One woman was put on a commercial flight by her husband, and got off when they changed planes at an airport. She headed for the nearest bar and never showed up at the rehab facility. 
 
If you feel uncomfortable doing any of this by yourself and still want to avoid HR, you may want to hire a qualified professional – a licensed psychotherapist with addiction experience and/or a qualified interventionist – who can orchestrate an intervention.  If you’d like to keep it private from family, friends, coworkers, and other bosses at work, then you can do it with just you and the interventionist.
 
Or you may want to include Al’s family, friends, co-workers, and loved ones.  Al may be more resistant and he may need a group confrontation about his drinking. This can be very powerful. The intervention consists of each person writing Al a letter, or sending in a DVD, CD, that recounts his/her feelings and experience of how Al’s alcoholism and addiction has affected their own life, their concerns, their wish for it to stop, and for Al to get the help he needs. Each letter is read without feedback, arguing, debate, or discussion. The most powerful “letter” I remember from an intervention I led was an audio tape from a grandchild, asking grandpa to please stop drinking and acting funny. That was the powerful effect he needed and the man enrolled into a rehab center that afternoon. 
 
When you talk to Al, make sure you have all important materials handy — the list of rehab centers that his insurance policy covers, and the list of 12 Step and AA meetings locally and the ones that meet that evening so you can take him to one, if he decides to go with you. He will have to take a leave of absence from work for about a month. 

Depending on the severity of his drinking, you may also have to issue rather strong ultimatums or even threats to get him to comply. When you discuss this with Al, you may want to say something this: “Al, I have enjoyed having you as my boss and I feel very protective of you. I chose to not go to HR yet in order to protect your job. I must be totally honest and tell you that now I observe you coming to work, reeking of alcohol at nine in the morning, staggering in upon occasion, slurring your words, and your eyes are bloodshot. Others have observed this and have mentioned this to me. They are concerned for their safety and yours because you don’t remember things, which may be a sign of black-outs, which is a sign of terminal stages of alcoholism. I think you’ve got a serious alcohol problem. I strongly suggest you check yourself into a rehab center and that means taking some time off from work. You need to attend AA meetings. You need to get into rehab so before you get fired, I recommend that you take time off and that you check yourself in to a de-tox center voluntarily. I’ll take you to a 12 Step meeting tonight. Here’s the list of meetings so let’s go have some dinner and go to one. If you don’t, I can call the cops and have you Baker Acted, taken in on drunk and disorderly conduct. Or if you get behind the wheel, I’ll call the cops that you’re driving under the influence. Please come with me tonight. I care about you and you need to get into treatment.” 
 
If Al is still in denial, and gets behind the wheel of his car when he is drunk, then you can save his life and the lives of others from danger by calling the police to have him arrested, Baker Acted (called “5150” in California) and taken to a psychiatric unit for evaluation.  Remember you are saving his life and any potential victims he could hit and/or kill while driving in his car. It may be difficult and it’s the right thing to do. He will be grateful to you when he gets sober.

—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill).

The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. She is the host and producer of “The Linnda Durré Show,” which airs daily on 810 AM Radio in Central Florida and streams live on global audio on computers at www.BIG810AM.com M-F from 12-1 PM (ET). For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.

Coping with a toxic boss: “AL THE ALCOHOLIC”
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