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Drinking at Work

I’ve hesitated to write about drinking at work for a few reasons, the main reason being reliving cringe worthy moments. However, last week I spent some time swapping workplace horror stories with friends, and it made me reflect on booze’s place at work.

The type of ‘drinking at work’ I’m referencing is the condoned type. The celebratory boozy lunches, the bottles of wine and whiskey on desks and in team ‘snack’ cabinets. The ever looming open bar at conferences and trade shows, and an overarching expectation that a work-related event will likely involve drinking.

In this capacity, I’ve done my fair share of drinking at work. Most of which was funded by, and often scheduled by, my employer. I started my first ‘real’ job at age 19, but I kept my age a secret from most of my colleagues as I had concerns about being alienated. I’d been told that a lot of the real strategic talk happened at the bar after work, and I wanted to be there for all of it. So, I attended my first work happy hour after day one of corporate training. I stood at the host stand of the bar with my colleagues, sweating bullets expecting to be carded. I was certain that someone had done the math and that I’d be called out for being underage. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I was ushered to a table where I ordered a Corona Light, (as any true 19 year old in a bar does), and so began my introduction to the corporate drinking scene.

It's been almost 20 years since my first corporate happy hour, and not much has changed. While the work world has embraced changes in-line with blended gender norms, pay equality, transparency and ethics; alcohol’s place remains relatively unchanged. I once worked with someone who told me that using a smiley face emoji was inappropriate in work-related email. This was the same person I’d once seen so drunk at a convention that she had to be put in a wheelchair by a colleague to be taken back to her hotel room. How do we define appropriateness in a corporate setting where alcohol is condoned and over consumption is commonplace?

Rather than answer the question about how to define appropriateness, I’ve decided to make it clear that I view alcohol in the workplace as inappropriate. It's as inappropriate to me as some people’s perception of smiley faces in business communication. :) This means I recognize that booze is still likely to be around at work, but I won’t be partaking. I’ve been vocal about my dry year with those who will listen, and in some cases those people are colleagues. I’ve become the person in the work happy hour with a tea or an alcohol-free cocktail, and I’m vocal about it. I’ve chosen to speak about my dry year because I know that I’m not alone. As I mentioned, last week I swapped work horror stories with friends, and I was shocked at how many of them involved booze. It was a reminder that the best way to change perception of what’s appropriate is to change reality. In my reality, I don’t think that alcohol should have a place at work.

So the next time you send a meme to your colleagues, or plan an event, assess whether or not making it alcohol-related will enhance the experience for all involved. Be sensitive to those you work with, and to those who look to you as a mentor or sponsor. I’m using my dry year as an opportunity to change patterns, and to hopefully help others avoid work horror stories that could have been prevented if alcohol had been.



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