Scotch on the Credenza and Martinis in the Boardroom

Posted Monday, Apr. 16, 2018

Workplace drinking is less glamorous, but still prevalent 

Part of the novelty of the television series Mad Men—aside from the beautiful clothes and astonishing misogyny—was the amount of alcohol the characters drank throughout the work day. Morning coffee and cigarettes swiftly transition to lunch cocktails and cigarettes, all within the confines of Sterling Cooper. 

“What a world that must have been,” we said. “Do you think it was really like that?” 

We saw that there is nothing more glamorous than having a drinks cart in one’s own office and having multiple cocktails at lunch, and the show did very little to dispel us from thinking otherwise. Yes, a character was so drunk he soiled himself in his office, yes, the men got handsy, sure, property was destroyed, but we weren’t taught a whole lot about the downside of workplace drinking in Mad Men. Not, we should mention, that it was the show’s job to be our moral compass or lead by any sort of example. (Thank goodness it wasn’t!) 

Now, depending on where you are and what you do, drinking is still present in the workplace, albeit far less glamorized. While most workplaces dismiss the idea out of hand (the lawsuits! the liability!), drinking is tolerated at others, and, in a very few cases, drinking is the norm. But in most cases, when alcohol is present, drinks are poured in full knowledge of the taboo most organizations place on “day drinking” at work. Beers are coyly cracked only after lunch on a summer Friday. Spirits are camouflaged in mixers. 

Leave it to the tech industry and the advertising world (clinging to vestiges of bygone times, perhaps?) to be the most indulgent when it comes to drinking. An article we readrecently cites tech and advertising as liquor’s best workplace friends. Leaders in these fields are on record suggesting that drinking aids the creative process and acts as a lubricant for non-traditional problem solving. 

Problem drinking, however, is documented the highest among blue-collar industries. Construction workers, miners, sailors, and roofers are populations who have a higher risk of “alcohol-related death.” Whether it’s the dangers associated with those jobs that turn laborers into drinkers or the fact that it’s much easier to sit at a desk while drunk and not die than it is to roof a house, has yet to be fully investigated. 

As in all things, moderation presents itself as the key to workplace drinking. Many companies find a balance in their alcohol use and pop corks only for celebrations—launching an author, landing a big client, exceeding stretch sales goals in a year—or for valedictory events. It’s a special occasion that warrants alcohol, not Friday. 

The lesson here is clearer than it ever was on the slick and stylized Mad Men: Let’s leave the heavy drinking (and the smoking and the philandering and objectification of women, while we’re at it) back in the 60s where—even then—it never really belonged.