The smell was potent. His eyes were the reddest I had ever seen. One amazing thing about Tim, though, was that he could be drunk as a skunk and not slur his words and walk a straight line without any problem. (Where did the term drunk as a skunk come from anyway?)
This is when I confronted him. He didnt say a word, simply packed his laptop and left the building. I was flabbergasted. I had dealt with people who were violent, silly or incoherent when drunk, but never one who was calm, cool and collected.
I agonized about what to say to Tim leading up to the next day. I have family who struggle with alcoholism and knew this impending discussion had implications that were more important than what transpired at the office.
I also knew that if not addressed, things could get ugly in the office. In a past job of mine, a coworker who had a drug addiction broke in to the office one night and stole computers to pawn so he could get his fix that night. If someone would have been working late, something horrible could have happened.
Although others had turned a blind eye to Tims drinking problem, I felt I had to deal with it.
When Tim came in, he was on time and deliberately walked right past my office. I took a deep breath and followed. He looked at me as I appeared in front of his desk and said Hey, whats up?
I briefly wondered if he didnt remember what happened. I forged ahead with my planned speech about how drinking wasnt allowed during work hours and that I noticed a pattern of concerning activity.
Tim laughed and said there was no problem. He had met a friend for drinks at lunch and it got a bit out of control. Plus he reminded me that the company had an unofficial happy hour every Friday at 4 PM with beer in an office conference room which was true.
And you know, there wasnt much else I could do or say. Even worse, I had screwed up. Since I decided not to involve HR the incident wasnt documented. I naively chose to handle it on my own with a friendly discussion.
This was a bad idea on so many levels. I should have made it an official discussion, because this wasnt the last time it happened.
Eventually his work started to suffer and he became unreliable. But because of his status in the company and because of his low-key demeanor while under the influence, Tim was able to skate by for longer than he should have potentially putting him and others in danger, not to mention the firms reputation.
After our company was acquired, Tim cashed out and disappeared. Im happy I dont have a more dramatic ending to share because it could have ended badly.
If you know someone has a problem, find a way to bring it to the surface through HR and dont bury it hoping it will just go away. It doesnt matter if they are a founder, superstar or just your average developer. You might not be as lucky.
ALSO SEE: Understanding Your 'Idiot' Manager
Eric Spiegel is CEO and co-founder of XTS, which provides software for planning, managing and auditing Citrix and other virtualization platforms.