Does anyone remember the days when cocktails were routine office supplies? When lunch consisted of two and a half hours and three martinis?
Drinking in the office is a proud American tradition. Now that work culture is a must-have, many modern workplaces are working in a resurgent age of the “office bar.” In addition to free coffee, the fridge comes with free beer. But when (and how) is it acceptable to drink on the job?
A Brief History of Office Drinking Culture
Not to brag, but Americans kind of kill it at drinking on the job. In the early days of our nation’s founding, craftsmen were sometimes paid in brandy; cowboys and railroad workers frequented saloons. Sure, there was the Prohibition in the ‘20s and ‘30s to prevent day drinking, but cultural acceptance of drinking at work went on until the ‘60s.
If you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you know that the workers of Sterling Cooper (or some iteration of the agency that would change names a dozen more times) drank a lot. As an advertising agency in the drinking era, they practically defined three-martini lunches and were known for wining and dining clients during work.
Though Mad Men is fiction, the office-drinking culture portrayed was real—but it started to decline by 1970. And thanks to a more-than-generous cut in business meal and entertainment tax in 1987 and 1994, drinking on the job dwindled into a cultural taboo.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that Americans eventually held a “stupidity” bias against those who drank in a professional setting. They were viewed as less intelligent and less hireable than candidates who ordered soda (but those who ordered wine were considered more intelligent in the survey).
The Modern Age of Office Drinking
Our perceptions of office-drinking culture have shifted in the last few years. For many companies—often startups and agency-like firms—drinking on the job is now considered a perk. Bloomberg’s Businessweek reports that Yelp’s headquarters in San Francisco is equipped with “a keg refrigerator” that “supplies its employees with an endless supply of beer.” At the Arnold Worldwide Ad agency in Boston, look no further than the office’s beer vending machine, affectionately called “Arnie.”
Holding happy hour in the office brings after-hours activity into the professional space. It’s both a way to keep employees around longer hours while fostering internal connections. Research has even shown that workers who drink are more productive and can better explore unorthodox solutions.
Of course, encouraging drinking in the workplace can lead to exclusion of those who don’t drink for health or religious purposes. Not to mention the double standards for women who drink on the job.
What Ninjas Had to Say About Drinking at Work
Drinking at work definitely differs company to company, industry to industry, and person to person. Office Ninjas Ambassadors are a great indicator. When the general conversation of drinking at work came up, some were surprised that people drank on-site at all. Others saw it as a perk that’s come to be expected at the end of the day.
However, many Ninjas pointed out that drinking at work can be a liability. Since you’re the gatekeepers of the office in most cases, it’s part of the job to make sure everyone understands the team’s “drinking at work” policy. Some, like Emily B., choose to remind the office with a light-hearted rhyme about staying safe while drinking. Others have left it to employees to use common sense (AKA to not get wasted in the middle of the day).
That said, the actions of one person or one bad outcome can wreck the fun for the rest of the office, making a formal policy necessary. As Ninja Tasha A. said, office managers should work closely with HR departments to outline expectations, regulations, and consequences to keep everyone safe.
“These rules should be communicated during onboarding and put in employee handbooks,” said Tasha. “You may want to establish a cadence for conversations instead of waiting until they’re needed. We’ve grown from 15 to nearly 300 and have a full bar at the office, so I’ve seen a lot.”
Whether you choose to work drinking policies or informal rules into onboarding or leave the call up to your team, the decisions should reflect your company’s culture. However, having a formal policy backed by HR ensures you’re safe, not sorry.
How to Drink At Work (If You’re So Inclined)
- Follow logical rules and safety laws.
- Choose your drink of choice wisely. Most companies that bring in drinks opt for beer, but if your team is different, recall your limit before caps start popping.
- Know your limits. Remember that you’re still in a professional setting, even if it’s a casual one. No one likes a lush. If you’re a lightweight, stick to one small glass of something.
- It’s all about perception. You don’t want to seem too eager to down the drink (no matter how much you need to) because people can and will judge you. Pour less than you would at home or at the bar, and take your time. You’re trying to enjoy it with colleagues, not get hammered.
- One drink per hour. The liver can process one ounce of liquor (or one standard drink) in one hour; more than that, and your body’s system becomes saturated.
- Try not to judge others. Sometimes, people get a little too tipsy. People make mistakes, but if it’s a consistent problem, it may be your place as the resident Ninja to step in or at least alert the appropriate team lead.
What do you think about drinking at work? Are you for it or against? Do you have any best practices to add to the list? Sound off below.