Ask Bullmore: Should I be concerned about my colleague's drug use?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: Should I be concerned about my colleague's drug use?

Jeremy Bullmore replies to a colleague concerned about a planner's drug use and a marketer who wants to evolve his employer's unofficial no-lunch policy.

Dear Jeremy, I have discovered, inadvertently, that a senior planner at our agency is a frequent user of psychedelic drugs. It doesn’t seem to affect his performance – should I be concerned?

I’ve already wasted too much time trying to work out just how you could have made this inadvertent discovery. If you’d stumbled on him just the once behind whatever the agency equivalent of the bike sheds is, I could understand. But you know he’s a frequent user. That suggests a lot of inadvertent stumbling on your part.

This is not, however, the frivolous question I’ve so far made it out to be. Once you know he’s a frequent user of illegal and potentially dangerous drugs, you can’t unknow it. And so, like it or not, you can’t shrug off all responsibility.

It’s not clear from your letter whether this planner is a planner at the agency at which you also work or whether you’re a client of his agency. If you’re a colleague, whether or not to intervene will be one of the more difficult decisions you’ll have to take.

The easy decision is to do nothing. But how would you then feel, a year or two down the line, to hear that he’d died? You need informed advice. You need professional counsel. You need to share this problem with people more qualified than you to make the decision.

You ask: "Should I be concerned?" Yes, you should. But concern that remains no more than that is worse than indifference. I’m afraid you’re in for quite a time-consuming diversion, attracting accusations of meddling in other people’s lives and earning thanks from no-one. Sorry about all this – but you did ask.

Dear Jeremy, I’m a marketer and work at a company where most people rarely take lunch breaks, despite being entitled to them. We all have busy lives but I don’t think it’s doing our productivity or happiness any good. What can I do to get a cultural change moving?

Company cultures are fascinating things. Few are imposed, fully formed, from above. Like almost everything else (see Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything), they evolve. But very few flourish if those at the top of an organisation are known to be opposed to them.

I wonder if you dislike the term C-suite as much as I do? It’s the first time I’ve brought myself to use it – and only because I’ve tried to imagine the structure of your company and concluded that you must be topped by a C-suite

Individually, I bet your C-suite inhabitants are normal people. But they are competitive and they see themselves in competition not so much with their competition as with each other.

Each needs to be seen the most conscientious, the most dedicated, the most self-disciplined. They start work very early. They leave work very late. They choose weekends for board meetings. The only bottles in the C-suite fridge are of mineral water. 

While your C-suite remains locked in this self-imposed pattern of austerity, your chances of persuading the lower orders to take the occasional lunch are no better than zilch.

You first need to loosen up the C-suite. Just remember that they are competitive. So slip one of them a copy of a serious piece from a heavyweight management periodical that describes the results of The Cupcake Experiment. (You may not find this exact article but there’s always something along these lines. If necessary, cobble it together yourself.)

The piece relates how an inspirational business leader introduced, to just one division of his Fortune 500 corporation, a monthly all-staff cupcakes and coffee afternoon. Tracked against earlier findings, and against the performance of other divisions of the same corporation, independent researchers found a 9.7% increase in productivity.

Their measured conclusion: "Against all orthodox management theory, staff should be encouraged, and if necessary instructed, to share refreshment.

"It’s clear that collective experiences of this nature act as a kind of collaborative lubricant and make a direct and significant contribution to company profitability."

It won’t be long before the first inhabitant of your C-suite dishes out the first cupcake. And it won’t be long before the others up the offer. I think you’ll find that your company culture soon begins to evolve again – and in an agreeable direction.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.