It’s a debate for the ages: can drinking on the job make you a better employee? There are strong opinions on both sides of the discussion. Successfully combining booze and our work lives has long been the dream. But is it really possible?
The short answer? Yes. The longer answer? You betcha.
In fact, it used to be the norm. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Mad Men, you’re already familiar with the 3-martini lunch. If you’ve ever been inside the office of a high profile executive (in real life, or via television and film), you’ve likely noticed the bar stocked with expensive scotch. Drinking at work used to be not only accepted, but even expected within certain industries and professions.
It was a glorious time to be alive.
But then something happened. Drinking at work started to be considered a – gasp! – bad thing. There was a social stigma attached to it. It was frowned upon, looked down upon, and even explicitly prohibited. Even worse than that, we arbitrarily assigned a 5pm start time for any drinking during the day, whether you were working or not. Anyone drinking before then had a “problem”. All good things must come to an end.
Or do they? The pendulum seems to be slowly but surely swinging back the other way (as pendulums are wont to do). Some jobs are once again actively encouraging or allowing it. Ad agencies and tech startups (among other places) are bringing booze back to work. Praise the lord!
Yelp! (the crowd-sourced business review site) has an office keg (you must log in with your employee badge, and it keeps a public record of how much everyone is consuming), Arnold Worldwide Ad agency has a beer vending machine nicknamed Arnie (employees hang out there like they would around a water cooler), the J. Walter Thompson office in New York has a 50-foot employee bar on site (it “incentivizes and enthuses employees” according to a spokesperson), creative agency Colle+McVoy in Minneapolis has a machine that disperses draft beer when employees submit their timesheet, and Dropbox celebrates “Whiskey Fridays”. How amazing do these companies sound? Amazing.
Drinking at work is migrating from secret shame (sneaking a sip from a flask filled with vodka) to out-in-the-open.
Let’s just call it what it is: an awesome fringe benefit. Allowing employees to drink at work not only allows them to drink at work (which is itself pretty dang epic), but it demonstrates a trust and belief in the staff. We’ve all worked someplace that treated its employees like children not to be left alone. A workplace that trusts its workers to act responsibly more often than not ends up with responsible employees. We all recognize the difference between drinking at work, and getting drunk. One is increasingly acceptable, while the other is not, and merely allowing staff to drink doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly find otherwise mature individuals acting like frat boys. We self-regulate. We appreciate the trust and faith placed in us, and the vast majority don’t want to do anything (such as creating a beer funnel in the break room, or getting hammered and streaking through the lobby) to jeopardize that.
In short, it makes us feel good about ourselves, our employers, our relationship with them, and that makes us better employees. Plus…we get to drink. Sitting at your desk doing data entry with a cold beer is infinitely better than sitting at your desk doing data entry without one.
Booze has long been considered a creativity booster, and science is finally starting to catch up and explain it. A recent study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago (Uncorking the Muse: Alcohol Intoxication Facilitates Creative Problem Solving) found that moderate alcohol use can boost and foster creative problem solving and thinking. According to the researchers, a couple of drinks makes us a little less focused and a little less aware of outside distractions. And that’s a good thing: our brains essentially tune out external stimuli and turn inward, allowing us to explore atypical solutions and scenarios. Our brains are naturals at making new and creative connections, but the modern world can be too distracting. Alcohol closes the blinds…at least a little, and only up to a point. The sweet spot seems to be a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of about 0.07, or roughly two beers. Any higher, and you lose the creativity boost and enter drunk territory (and as we all know, drunk people don’t have good ideas). The Problem Solver beer takes all the guesswork out of it for you, with a handy “drink to this line” (based on your weight) printed on the bottle. So easy!
There are a number of other studies that agree with the findings (ad execs came up with better ideas after two drinks, and students were better able to solve creative word problems after a couple of drinks, for example). Science finally doing something for the benefit of all humankind. You go, science!
Think about a typical bar or pub. People are talking, laughing, and forging new connections. Alcohol may not be necessary for social interaction, but it definitely acts as a lubricant to get things rolling. And the same happens at work. Employees that are allowed to drink on the job report closer relationships with their colleagues. Having a beer or glass of wine with a co-worker inevitably leads to discussion, and while it won’t restrict itself to work-related topics, some of it will include the new account, or the issues with the new project, or suggestions for a new marketing campaign, or ideas on how to foster greater collaboration between departments. It’ll happen. Employees feel relaxed and more able to get to know each other…and that can only benefit the entire company. Discussion and ideas flow as freely as the company-sponsored keg.
Alcohol has long been recognized as liquid courage, whether summoning the strength to talk to the cute girl across the bar, or steeling your nerves before a big presentation. It acts like a central nervous system sedative (try saying that three times fast after four beer), and this is especially true of the part of your brain that controls behaviour and emotion. Your safety and social filters are lowered if not completely eliminated, so you feel brave and confident (although, given enough alcohol, it can lead to very risky and dangerous behaviour).
But, with just a drink or two, you feel confident to, say, share your ideas in the staff meeting, or speak to your boss about a new initiative, or voice concerns over the direction of a new project. Slightly lowered inhibitions can give you just a bit more courage to participate and collaborate in the office.
Creates a Comfortable Atmosphere
We’re at our best when we feel relaxed and comfortable. Some office environments are tense, strict, and stressful, but a workplace that allows employees to drink by definition is not any of those things. We exhale, unclench, and loosen up. We feel better. We feel ready to work hard for an employer that trusts and treats us with respect (we’re all adults, after all).
Alcohol shuts off the self-censoring part of the brain, according to Dalton Conley of New York University. And while we need that to a degree, most of us spend our lives censoring virtually everything. We never believe our ideas are valid, or that our opinions matter to anyone other than ourselves. If we could reduce that (by having a drink or two, for example), we’d be willing and able to share ideas, thoughts, and opinions on a wide variety of business-related topics. Our inner editor would be silenced (or at least muzzled). Businesses thrive when employees are ready to share.
There is a world of difference between being drunk at work and drinking at work. Sneaking vodka in a Big Gulp cup, or using liberal amounts of hand sanitizer to mask the alcohol smell, are both signs you may (i.e. definitely do) have a problem. Taking advantage of company sponsored and endorsed initiatives to occasionally indulge in a little liquid refreshment, on the other hand, can make you a happier, braver, more confident, more creative, and more involved employee.
And you get to drink. It’s the best of both worlds. Can drinking at work make you a better employee? Absolutely.