Addiction on the rise in our industry – are stress and company culture to blame?

“Down in one, down in one,” the crowd bayed at the line of men and women desperately throwing back an assortment of brightly coloured shots, to applause and whistles.

As employers, is it even our responsibility to act as parents, asks Serge Vaezi
As employers, is it even our responsibility to act as parents, asks Serge Vaezi

No, this isn’t my recollection of a teenage holiday to Malia, but of a quarterly meeting in a swanky company boardroom, not long ago.

I know I’m not alone in having experiences where alcohol, cigarettes and other ‘stimulants’ are actively encouraged as part of company life in our industry.

Harmless fun? Maybe, but addictions of all types, in particular to alcohol and drugs, are at an all-time high, according to recent national research by The Forward Trust.

No surprises there, you might say, after the year we’ve all had, locked up and shacked up; no wonder so many of us might have cracked up.

At a recent event, headlined by the Duchess of Cambridge, I was reminded that two of the biggest factors that lead to addiction are work-related; the twin evils of stress and company culture.

This is important because, as more of us head back into the office, things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Looking back on my own experiences in agencies, I can see clearly how these factors led to unhealthy habits and unfortunately, in some cases, addictions among people I worked with and regarded as friends.

Now in a position of relative authority, I’m minded to ponder what I can do, and indeed what I should do, to help prevent creating unhealthy habits among my own staff.

As employers, is it even our responsibility to act as parents?

In the era of the ‘conscious employer’, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line.

As an industry we must balance the need to run successful businesses by meeting client demands with the need to maintain a supportive, collegiate and fair working environment.

Easier said than done. We also want to ensure people get to have fun, right?

So how can we tackle the twin issues of stress and company culture?

The way I see it, we need to deal with the first issue by recognising unfair behaviour wherever we see it – among ourselves, for sure, but especially in clients.

We need to call out behaviour that is not acceptable, even if it means putting a strain on those relationships, because in the long run, holding on to good staff, rather than letting them burn out due to stress or feeling abandoned, makes more business sense and humanity sense.

We all need to do this, so that intolerable behaviour is not tolerated.

On the company culture issue it’s a little easier; we simply need to stop assuming that everyone wants to do the same thing.

Introducing social events that have variety and give everyone options to choose, without judgement or eye-rolling, can go a long way to ushering in a culture where the link between socialisation and stimulation is effectively broken.

Serge Vaezi is co-founder of Seven Communications


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