Drinking on the Job

November 28, 2012

The alcohol fairy stopped by my office again it seems…and by alcohol fairy, I mean my good friend at work who happened to be previously married to a Diageo employee, and now has two kids and generally less time to drink the countless bottles of booze he still has in his collection. So yeah, he and I get along really well…

This batch of flavored clear liquors (almost certainly limited releases) will be enjoyed at some point down the line but for now, they are tucked away in my cubicle drawer to remain out of site until one after one, I carry them home on the train. It’s not so much that anyone here would be appalled at this circumstance, but for me, I feel a bit more comfortable with the booze hidden away. But this wasn’t always the case now was it?

The success of Mad Men has re-glamorized the notion of drinking in the office. A bottle of scotch in the drawer was and in some fields still is, the sign of confidence, power, and maybe more currently, an employer who values their employees as responsible adults. And yes, these connections to the ad agencies of the 60s and the lifestyle of the power players holds accurate and is indeed intriguing, but only when you consider the significance of the timeline, post Prohibition.

I’ve written about this before but just for a quick refresher, the distillation boom in the 1800s significantly changed the way the average drinker consumed. Leading up until that point, it was extremely common for the men of agriculture and industry to drink a low alcohol beer with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In some cases, these drinks were actually consumed as “safer” alternatives to the low quality water available. But once distilled spirits became readily available, these drinking habits caused a bit of a problem; low alcohol beer and still proof whiskey aren’t exactly in the same category. This certainly wasn’t the only reason, but let’s just say the “behavior” of some of these men made it pretty easy for the Temperance Movement to showcase the perils of alcohol.

So fast forward through Prohibition where alcohol sale and production was deemed illegal to the period of time in the US depicted in Mad Men. Industry post WWII was changing gears and new careers / new businesses were shaping the new American economy. And in some ways, and maybe this is a bit dramatic, successful businessmen, drinking on the job was a symbol for true recovery and advancement. Prohibition, the Great Depression, and two World Wars later, we embraced the notion of alcohol having a place in our daily lives and with the very same “strong stuff” that got some folks in trouble in the first place.

Nowadays, it has become more and more popular to offer full bars and kegerators in the offices of start-ups, tech brands, and modern day ad agencies particularly those located in big cities. Hoping to develop a sense of mutual respect with employees, these offerings assume if treated like a responsible adult, one will act like it. And in most cases I imagine it works. A little booze generates a bit of creativity and as I have heard from a number of friends in these areas of work, actually entices people to stay later, and work harder. For me, I appreciate the openness some of these employers take to offer alcohol freely but I tend to admire the private stash a bit more. Maybe one day when I’m out of these cubicles…


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