Thanks to the fantasy brought to us by movies and television (cue Mad Men), many of us view the act of sitting down at our desk in a high-backed leather chair with a whiskey sour as the ideal way to spend our weekdays at work. However, what many of us don’t know is that enjoying a cocktail at the workplace is closer to reality than fantasy for much of America’s workforce.
While some of us may gawk at the fact of drinking on the job—The audacity! The neglect!—some wildly successful companies such as Twitter and Zillow would argue that allowing alcohol at work makes their company a better place.
So, should you keep alcohol at the workplace? Should you stash the bottom drawer of your desk with a bottle of wine to celebrate making that huge sale?
As with any question, let’s think pros and cons.
Why Workplace Booze Might Be a Good Thing
It’s possible that drinking alcohol at work isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, alcohol comes with its own set of benefits which may do a workplace well!
One of the most obvious benefits of a Friday 5 PM Happy Hour is that alcohol is a natural aid to socialization and team “bonding” — alcohol definitely makes it easier to open up and communicate. Why else would social drinking be so prevalent? The increased communication can help enhance workplace teamwork and collaboration, particularly because friendliness between coworkers is more likely to lead to favorable outcomes like higher retention rates, improved morale, and a generally more positive attitude.
Secondly, alcohol can work as an incentive. Huge amounts of research have proven that providing incentives to employees is an incredibly effective way of increasing sales, bolstering productivity, and achieving company goals.
How do we know it works? About $90 billion is spent each year on non-cash incentives — companies wouldn’t prioritize incentives if they didn’t work. Allowing alcohol in the office, particularly offering beverages or popping a bottle of champagne when your team has achieved an important goal, gives employees something to look forward to while they work. Never underestimate the power of a reward to bolster work ethic and boost employee morale.
Increased creativity is another perk that comes with drinking a beverage or two in the office. An Austrian University study determined that volunteers who consumed a beer before engaging with creative tasks performed better than those who downed a non-alcoholic drink. Mathias Benedek, the lead researcher on the project, noted that, “Alcohol is so linked with creativity.”
This is far from the first study to have detailed this phenomenon, too. A company called Blood, Sweat and Cheers opts for bringing beers into brainstorms they like to call “Think & Drink,” claiming that have a beer during the meeting makes people more likely to share thoughts and ideas without fear of rejection.
Finally, allowing alcohol in the office can actually be a draw for new hires. As with any other workplace perk, advertising this perk can be one of the tiny details that puts new recruits’ decisions over the edge as they’re choosing which job offer to accept.
The Argument Against Drinking at Work
It’s difficult to argue the power of incentives, improved creativity, and the company “cool factor,” but there are plenty of downsides associated with drinking at the office, too.
For some professions — think medicine and law enforcement — the conundrum of workplace alcohol isn’t a conundrum at all. In professions where the impaired judgment caused by alcohol has the potential to lead to harm, there’s no question that alcohol has no place at work.
There’s also the issue of peer pressure, and people feeling guilted into drinking at work then they don’t want to. Add to that the complication of alcohol being in the office when someone is actively trying to stop drinking, for personal or health reasons, and things become even more complicated.
By cultivating an environment where it is acceptable (and even encouraged) to drink during the day while on the job, powerful temptations loom for those who are attempting to distance themselves from alcohol. In addition to harming the well-being of these employees, workplace drinking may also result in the acceptance of prior bad habits which will hinder work performance.
Additionally, while alcohol may do wonders to improve relationships between employees and team members, this increase in socialization isn’t always a good thing. Cornell University published a study in 2004 suggesting that instances of sexual harassment in the workplace substantially increased (more than double) for every alcoholic beverage consumed by male employees.
It is important to consider the consequences of these statistics, especially considering that female employees may begin to feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and therefore unable to perform at their best.
Finally, when a company allows its employees to drink on the job, the business opens itself up to a world of legal liability. The presence of alcohol is inherently linked to a higher probability of workplace accidents—if it happens on company property, you’re responsible.
Employees who drive home under the influence may also sue you for providing them with booze in the first place. All things considered, allowing alcohol on the job is a recipe for legal disaster.
In the end, the decision of whether or not to stock up on the office bar must be made on a case-by-case basis. Every work environment is different, and the requirements of each workplace vary so significantly that it’s impossible to come to a single conclusion applicable to everyone.
If you are an office manager or have the power to control whether or not alcohol is kept in your office, start by considering the individuals that make up your office environment, and weigh the pros and cons to formulate an alcohol policy that best serves your employees’ needs.
There’s also an interesting middle ground — allowing beer and wine but no hard alcohol in the office. This can help keep consumption to a minimum and decrease the changes of people overindulging. But most importantly, employees need to make responsible decisions in their offices, regardless of what’s available. Moderation is key.
What do you think about keeping alcohol in the office? Let us know in the comments below.