Drinking on the Job: When It’s Acceptable & How to Do It

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.

Don Draper Drinking

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).

Mad-Men-Peggy-Drink

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)

  1. Follow logical rules and safety laws.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Emily E. Steck

Emily E. Steck is a writer who thinks too much, according to her mother. She attributes her ninja skills to her university years, where she worked as a student worker for the math department. It was her understanding there would be no math. When she's not writing, she can be seen reading a book, jamming out on her piano and playing tennis.

Comments

  1. M. L. Jerome
     

    Hi Emily,

    Thank you for this thought provoking article. I am not a fan of alcohol in the business place because there is NO data on the planet to suggest that people become better versions of themselves. Typically, they say things they regret and may do things that cause risk to their well being or that of another. When you add alcohol to an environment that excludes spouses, the ramifications can become even greater. I know more than one person who has experienced marital trouble because of co-worker relationships that crossed the line. In one instance, a secretary sent a complete nude photo shoot to one of the company’s top performers. Needless to say, this type of behavior is NOT assisting anyone in becoming the best version of themselves. Thank you for this article and God bless those who desire to drink on the job and become better versions of themselves. I believe they are non-existent.

  2. Alison Lyon
     

    Back in the day……. I remember day drinking and company supplied alcohol at the end of the day. It has been a long time since I have been with an organization celebrating that culture. Maybe time for a change, I’m thirsty now. I think it’s a great way to unwind and socialize. However, now that I’m older, I’d worry about company liability and I don’t want to drink and drive. I guess that’s what Uber/Lyft are for. Cheers!

    1. Profile photo of OfficeNinjas
      OfficeNinjas
      author

      Yep, Uber to the rescue! It’s true though, many companies are bringing alcohol back into the workplace, so you may see it again Alison!

  3. Jill Connaway
     

    We have liquor and beer at work, but most of the time people who imbibe usually do so toward the end of the day or during work celebrations. I’ve never seen anyone get drunk at work, except for at our annual holiday parties which start off at the office and end up at a local bar. No one seems judge-y about this once a year drunkenness.

    These days drinking alcohol often makes me sleepy, so I don’t drink if I need to focus on work. I do enjoy getting a good buzz on at the holiday party, though.

    1. Profile photo of OfficeNinjas
      OfficeNinjas
      author

      Sounds like you know how to do it right, Jill :)

  4. Ashley Hietpas
     

    We have a stocked beer fridge and some liquor and wine bottles lying around, but we mostly stick to drinking during our Beer:30, as well as right before and after. There are some definite exceptions to this rule though, such as going away parties.

    1. Profile photo of OfficeNinjas
      OfficeNinjas
      author

      Very cool Ashley! Makes sense that going away parties would get a little more exciting :)

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