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Drinking at Work: How to Manage an Alcohol at Work Policy

Written By: Mary-Devon Dupuy

Unlike their stoic boomer and Gen X predecessors, millennial workers prioritize work-life balance over salary, or company loyalty. Flexible schedules are one solution that employers have used to attract and retain millennial talent, but there is a level of face-time for any employee to thrive within a company’s culture. In order to encourage modern workers to stay in their offices, many companies have brought back some retro, Mad Men-esque management tactics — beer fridges and office cocktail hours.  No longer reserved for the annual holiday party, many bosses are encouraging their teams to unwind with a cold one while they close out their work days. However, it is easy to imagine the myriad ways that this office perk could become a human resources disaster.

Before we discuss the fun stuff, let’s talk about who may be negatively impacted by the option to drink at work. An estimated 17.6 million Americans struggle with alcohol addiction, and alcoholism is considered a disability under ADA guidelines. Promoting workplace drinking without providing support for people who may struggle with addiction is hosting an event on the 10th floor with no elevator. Make sure that employees know that they can discreetly discuss their thoughts on drinking at work with human resources. Furthermore, offices that host happy hours or have beer fridges should also consider mocktail options that are more exciting than water or coffee.

Legal ramifications aside, occasional drinking on the job gives everyone in the office a bright spot at the end of their days or weeks that involves staying in the office — it’s the same logic as free lunches, or rooms for napping. When crafting an “alcohol at work policy,” consider how relaxed, or strict rules should be. How to drink at work is more important than whether or not to drink at work. Some people are bound to misunderstand the message of free on-site alcohol, and others are bound to fall victim to their own tolerance.

Employees drinking beer at work should max out at one-to-two, especially if they are drinking at their desks. The two-drink maximum may seem obvious to anyone who’s done their fair share of boozing, but some only know how to binge. Ironically, less seasoned drinkers are often the ones who treat professional lunches like a backstage pass to a rock show. Once a newbie orders his first martini, all bets on moderation are off. Many people have only experienced alcohol in party atmospheres, which encourages overindulgence.

Now that we have mentioned martinis, let’s get into the nitty gritty on what types of drinks are acceptable at work. Craft cocktails are for restaurants, not offices. There is no consistent way to measure the amount of alcohol in a “jack and coke” or a “vodka cranberry,” because people’s pours are heavier depending on their moods, or their history with alcohol use. Beer and wine contain less alcohol-per-volume, and it’s easier to track exactly how much people are drinking when the substances in question are self-contained.

All this to say that the most obvious liability that comes with alcohol in the workplace is of course driving under the influence! If you are in a city that offers robust public transit, then this is less of an immediate concern. However, higher-ups have to be prepared to offer employees paid rideshare services if you are going to let them leave work after a few drinks. Either that, or make sure that no one is over the legal limit before getting in their cars. Liability in this situation is murky, but morality is at the crux of the issue: No one wants to live with culpability in another person’s preventable injury.

On a lighter note, drinking alcohol at work may affect a team’s productivity. The numbers prove that drinking is “cool” in that drinkers have higher chances of climbing the socio-professional ladder. Some evidence suggests that drinking in moderation can improve productivity and build camaraderie among employees. It’s not unusual for people with healthy relationships with alcohol to indulge in a pre-5pm-cocktail. Exactly who is, their roles, and how much they’re drinking must be loosely monitored in order to address any necessary intervention.

Drinking in the office is a perk, and supervisors should be in charge of regulating employee behavior if necessary. Before declaring open-season on bringing alcohol into your workday, think about how to manage a clear-cut policy. Allow feedback from employees while structuring the rules and incorporate human resources into all conversations. With a solid plan in place, the entire team can crack a cold one from time to time.

Mary-Devon Dupuy is First Impression Liason for Acrew and a local comedian in New Orleans.

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