Boozing It Up on the Company’s Buck
Know the risks when you drink with your peers at work — or with your boss
Drinks in the office may not flow as freely in 2016 as they did back in the days of the “Mad Men” — but in some industries, drinking is still a big part of both business and pleasure. And things can get pretty wild.
“How to mix social life with work — especially in big corporations where the pressure is much higher than it was 15 years ago — is a real concern,” said Dr. Friedemann Schaub, a physician and author of the book, “The Fear and Anxiety Solution.”
“There’s a much greater ‘replaceability’ factor in today’s work force. The loyalty of the corporation to the worker doesn’t really exist anymore. You either measure up or you’re let go — and many people are waiting for your job.”
“That pressure,” added Schaub, “is suddenly a part of this weird mingling situation in the bar, where the boss who just hit you with a deadline before the weekend now wants to have a drink with you.”
This drinking can happen at happy hour at the pub around the corner — or halfway around the world, at a remote island work trip.
"I have been to sales rewards trips where everyone, from the boss on down, was sloppy-drunk," one Los Angeles-based sales professional told LifeZette. "Once everyone was away from home and at the resort, there was a big sense of letting loose and blowing off steam. Ours is a high-pressure, high-stress industry, so I guess people thought they deserved some serious unwinding."
The rewards for a job well done — or to rally the troops — can be lavish and rife with opportunities to over-drink.
"We are always working. If we don't have a beer at work, when will we?" said one employee.
"It's not clear why companies do [lavish trips] in the first place. There are too many opportunities to get drunk, and nobody really has a good time unless they're drinking," said Schaub. "You may be wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt instead of work attire, but it's the same situation as in the office and the same potential pitfalls around alcohol."
Drinking socially can be proof of stamina, professional intensity, and workplace popularity. "Depending on the company culture, it may be expected that you party as hard as you work, or harder," Cliffside Malibu senior addiction research fellow Dr. Constance Scharff told Fast Company.
"Those who burn the candle at both ends and still produce are well-respected by their peers and build strong, large social networks."
One male senior executive in software sales from New Hampshire told LifeZette, "I think women in the workplace feel a special responsibility to network over drinks. A lot of deals in my industry are done on the golf course, and not as many women golf, unfortunately. So they make sure they're at the bar to be seen by the higher-ups."
Some businesses are even bringing back office imbibing.
"We have a fridge at the office stocked with beer and wine," one 27-year-old Boston marketing professional told LifeZette. "And sometimes 5 o'clock is more like 4:30 on a Friday. We're all making calls and on our computers with beers on our desks. It's because we are always working. If we don't have a beer at work, when will we?"
In today's social-media-drenched world, caution should be taken when carousing with the work crew. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Said Schaub, "The problem with cocktails after work for some with less control is that afterward they're thinking, 'Oh no, I made a fool of myself, I can't really remember what I did.' That's more pressure."
So have a strategy, said Schaub. "Tell yourself, 'I will not go with an empty stomach, and I will choose the drink I can handle well' — no martinis, for example. You are trying to go to the gathering in control and with a plan."
Schaub suggests a realistic way to look at networking opportunities. "Your boss will never be your friend. The boss is married to the company, and will do whatever the company says to do. He or she has his own pressures. So if this person has been told to let you go, you're gone. The social part needs to be separated in your mind from the work part."
Should you skip the after-hours events altogether? No, said Schaub. There are concrete benefits to socializing with colleagues.
"Just be yourself. These social events can be very productive," he said. "You can make strategic alliances and get to know colleagues better, and you don't need to get drunk to achieve this."
He added: "Don't exclude yourself. In the end, unfortunately, many decisions are made by likability — and if you aren't there, people don't get a chance to know you."
Final advice: "Show up, but remember, it's not pleasure. It's work. The wallpaper has changed, but you're still in the office."