Another Perspective: Drinking at Work


Conventional wisdom says that drinking at work is best confined to those looking to get fired or toasting a fond farewell at a going-away party. Sadly gone are the days of three-martini lunches at least for the little guy. Presumably those with enormous walnut desks and leather couches still nip a bit of scotch while they entertain their wealthy benefactors, co-investors, clubmates, etc. Let’s face it. This isn’t a world we’ll ever know.

Wageslaves like ourselves will find it frowned upon, if we should decide to keep a bottle of Johnnie Walker in our desk drawers. Even if that bottle goes unopened for years, it is seen as a sign of degeneracy. If we go to lunch with a business compatriot and it turns into a booze-fest of lengths up to four hours, we will not return to the welcome we deserve (a nice quiet room with a couch to nap on). Instead, you may find a supervisor questioning why you haven’t “clocked out” (barbarous). You may find yourself “suspended.” Your co-workers, instead of the deferential behavior they ought to exhibit, may take the occasion to laugh openly and to mock your afternoon-stumble.

And yet I propose that the world underestimates the value of alcohol in opening our eyes to the subtleties of business etiquette and planning strategies. Consider this:

Professional A has an ongoing feud with Professional B, but they have to work in close concert with one another. For one year, Professional A and Professional B nurse a slowly-increasing hatred of one another. They are snappish, and uncordial. Ultimately morale in Department X goes down. Others tiptoe around Professional A and Professional B, fearing an outburst. Employees call in sick, or linger at the coffeepot. Productivity suffers. Then one day Mr. W, the department supervisor, announces the birth of his first child and everyone in Department X celebrates with a case of champagne. Professional A and Professional B realize the folly of their ways. They giggle and slap one another on the back. Perhaps they even continue their bender through the rest of the night and wake up in an old shed somewhere, but that’s a bit much to hope for. Let’s just say they make up and become, if not pals, then at least amiable co-workers. As you can plainly see, much time and effort was wasted, when a small dose of alcohol could’ve smoothed things over.

A second scenario:

Professor M is a scientist working on an important device that he believes could revolutionize the science of chilling beverages. However, he’s become stymied at a particular point in the process and cannot seem to get past it. He is distracted and has a hard time concentrating on his work. He leaves pots of water to boil and forgets them for hours. He forgets important occasions like Mother’s Day. He grows thin, forgets to eat, and begins looking rather ghastly. His colleagues start to worry. Then one day, in his frustration, he decides to partake of one of the bottles of white wine he keeps for his beverage chilling experiments. Because he’s not usually a drinker, Professor M becomes intoxicated quickly and ends up sleeping on the floor of his lab. When he wakes up, he finds he has dreamed the precise answer to his dilemma and proceeds to perfect his beverage-chilling device that very day. He makes his company a lot of money and secures himself a prominent place in the scientific community. Somehow alcohol gave Professor M the change in perspective he needed to make the logical jump in his work.

And so you see, the value in drinking is not just for chatting up cute girls in bars. That same social lubricant is useful (I daresay necessary?) in the workplace. Do not look down upon those of us who can be both drunk and productive. It is not a talent of the many. Those of us who understand its power can harness it for good, not evil. Recognize and celebrate employers of the world, the next round is yours.

Filed under Commentary on March 8th, 2004