Column: Roger's Soapbox

A Sobering Step Too Far?

By: | June 1, 2017

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected].

Puritanism was a religious reform movement that arose in England in the late 16th century. Agents sent to the northern colonies in the New World laid the foundations for the religious, intellectual, and social order of the nascent United States.

The British got over the idea, and became instead stoics, who regulate themselves, whereas puritans know what’s best for everyone else.

The new puritanism had, until recently, limited itself to sex and smoking.

In matters sexual, swains at UK universities are advised to receive written permission from the objects of their desire 24 hours ahead of an intended union, to head off the potential for misunderstanding.

Smoking, of course, has replaced blasphemy as the ultimate depravity. Beastly smokers — of which I am one — are now considered akin to terrorists. We hateses them. Where there’s smoke, there’s puritans. Before becoming the most hated man in Europe, Tony Blair wanted to ban smoking everywhere. Instead, everywhere banned Tony Blair.

By all means punish those who practice excess. But dictate moral behavior to those who don’t? Not on your life.

Lloyd’s of London had its genesis in a drinking environment (coffee), not long after the old puritanism held sway. Lloyd’s has now banned its 800 employees from drinking alcohol of any sort before 5:00pm, and would probably prefer them to not drink thereafter. Gross misconduct charges and possible termination will follow for those who break the rules.

Here I must also declare an interest. I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage since 1986, because I was, and doubtless still am, an alcoholic. It never affected my work, mind you, and thereby hangs a tale. As drunk as I was each night, I am an adult, and understood that work mattered.

Lloyd’s apparently regards its employees as children. No smoking; no drinking; no sex please (they’re British); and no enjoyment of any kind whatsoever at work.

Puritans were often represented dramatically as “secretly lascivious purveyors of feigned piety.” I don’t know how well that description suits the Lloyd’s people, but the term “condescending” fits nicely.

Lloyd’s wants its workplace to be a drab, joyless environment. It fails to see the benefit of employees networking over a lunchtime pint, as they have for 300 years. A glass of wine or a pint of beer with lunch is no worse for most people than a Diet Coke.

By all means punish those who practice excess. But dictate moral behavior to those who don’t? Not on your life. Many of the brightest, hardest-working insurance people I know enjoy a glass of wine with lunch. One imagines they will seek employment in industries that respect their intelligence and self-control.

Until now, I had thought of insurance as one such industry. A spot of alcohol need not ruin a day’s work or a person’s career. But a ban on lunchtime drinking will damage Lloyd’s, because most adults hate being told what to do by people whose moral compass is set on stun.

Insurance underwriting was recently rated by Oxford University as the job most likely to be susceptible to automation, with 98.9 percent of its practitioners at risk. I’d bet Lloyd’s is bursting to introduce the idea of underwriting by robots. To ease their arrival, Lime Street is already treating its human resources as automatons. &

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