Joe Brennan is a founding partner and Managing Director of Eire Total Access, which provides scaffolding and access solutions to the commercial, residential, industrial and oil and gas sectors throughout Western Australia.
In this episode Joe talks about the impact of alcohol on working culture, what he’s done to unwind that and importance of recognising the impact work has on our connections.
This will be a confronting conversation for some, while validating for others.
My key learning nuggets from the conversation:
Culture is always a driving force and focus
Honest and grounded recognition that alcohol has a presence in the culture of the organisation (and wider industry), it is an issue and plays a very active role in shaping it
The recognition came the inner recognition of the impact of alcohol within Joe himself, him facing up to this and taking ownership as MD of the organisation
The impact can show up in lots of simple and subtle ways (faults, mistakes) but then also further exacerbated and amplified (getting reactive, angry in response to faults and mistake, and taking things overly personally)
By the organisation providing alcohol at events and function, it is a) promoting the presence of alcohol, and b) actually impacting the state and when workers return home from work, which then can have a greater and more lasting impact
Also recognise there is a huge social pressure to go along for drinks with work colleagues
Further, the impact of alcohol will shape new, younger employees, by both direct and indirect influence
Often drinking is part of an unconscious pattern that people seldom reflect on – often a pattern of avoidance of facing up to emotions of going to work and reconciling that within life
There is a further recognition that going to work is a disconnection from normal home life; it can also be a disconnection from your natural self to a work self
The disconnection often continues when an employees returns home tired and spent and isn’t necessarily present at home – reconnection is a process too
All of this has a wider impact that the organisation plays a role in influencing
To begin with, Joe personally retreated back from alcohol present events
Joe had to take the first step to turning things around and in the short term become public enemy no. 1 by ‘going against the established grain’ e.g. turning the Christmas party to a family orientated connective event, removing the provision of alcohol at monthly toolbox meetings
After that he was unflinching on the issue of alcohol and wellbeing as MD
There was a period of reducing numbers in the company to cement the culture before attracting new more culturally aligned talent
Letting people go who are not fundamentally not culturally aligned was required
Over time others began to come on the journey and see the wider impacts and benefits of removing alcohol and prioritising personal healthy and wellbeing
Joe’s leadership moved to taking a prevention point of view rather than a reactive, particularly in relation to wellbeing and being a good human in life – patience and persistence is required as it may not change things today but will in the future
Initiatives include morning group ocean ‘dips’ before work, movement classes, ice baths, deep tissue work
Observation - there’s never an issue to taking an hour away at the end of the day for barbecues and beers, but there’s resistance when it comes to the first hour of the day for general employee wellbeing – which can lead to increased productivity throughout the rest of the day
Particular focus on the inner and outer journey of new trainees and the impact of this transition to the workplace – building confidence and belief in self
Important point - when making large scale culture change it is important to notice stages in journey – large impetus and input from MD, but then allow for a new organic momentum/flow to emerge across the organisation
As momentum and positive outcomes then drew attention from other companies in and out of the wider industry; despite this there is still often resistance to accept the role of alcohol by others. Many what to make the changes but too often there is a fear of ‘going there’ to the root addressing the role and influence of booze individually and collectively
Important that the organisation formally recognises the surrounding family of each employee, understanding ‘where they are at in the world’ and the role they play to support each employee, while reciprocally taking time to also helping families to understand the role their family member plays within the organisation and how that fits within its overall goals
Allow and acknowledge space at work for the influence and impact of whatever is going at home – both good and less than good. This will avoid unhealthy compartmentalisation and provide fellow colleagues a deeper context of some of the wider influences that maybe impacting the employee while at work
Overall, the steps to remove alcohol have had a tangible positive impact on culture, talent attraction (particularly in difficult talent access periods recently), talent retention, productivity, improved margins and therefore profitability
A final interesting reflection point is the unseen role of alcohol in maintaining individual participation in the workplace and work practises, by suppressing the emotions that arise from having to reconcile going to work versus what people would rather do with their life?
If this is the case, should we focus on honest reconciliation to address was is coming up for individuals and remove the grip of alcohol on our surrounding cultures??
Join us on the journey to understand the unseen space that surrounds us all more deeply