Drinking on the Job

It's holiday time, and where I'm currently working, that means we're getting gift boxes in the office and hosting staff holiday parties, and we're generally a bit more relaxed and laid back than we would usually be. We've hosted a retirement party, two Christmas parties, and here, at this university in Australia, that means drinking wine on company time. 


This is new to me. I came from a public university in the US, where the alcohol policy was strict and explicit: alcohol on campus is not allowed without a permit, should not even be stored in staff offices, and we would never have a drink even off campus during working hours. You just didn't do it. 


Here, we pour champagne at lunch for a retirement party, we pour shiraz at 4:00 pm when we get a little antsy in the week before Christmas. And we sit at our desks with our disposable wine glasses and chatter on about work as we would any other time. 



This isn't an Australia/US thing, though I do find Australians in general to be more lax and pro-consumption of alcohol than American culture is. My private-sector friends in the US (usually at startups) regularly refer to mimosas or margaritas or kegs in the office. It's a major employment perk for some. 


I love coming into a workplace that feels less stodgy and more mature about responsible and independent consumption of alcohol in the name of celebration and relationship building with colleagues. And it also makes me wonder. Does the fact that my current workplace happily permits alcohol consumption mean I'm more or less productive? More or less happy? More or less likely to be retained in my job? And what does it mean for those among me who might be recovering from alcohol addiction, or pregnant, or Muslim? 


Navigating the culture 

If you're a young professional, navigating the nuances of drinking on the job is definitely something you'll face. Because while it's not necessarily mainstream to drink in the office (at least in the US), professionally themed happy hours or cocktails or dinners are very common in western business culture. You'll undoubtedly be in a situation where you'll be asked if you want a drink among your colleagues, whether that's in the office or out, during work hours or after, and you will very likely see your colleagues drinking and drunk.


What you should know is that every work place is different, and the office drinking culture is an aspect of the overall organizational culture that you'll learn about. If you're someone who is likely going to experience some challenges with an alcohol-friendly or alcohol-phobic workplace, ask questions in your interview about how the team socializes. "How do you typically celebrate before the holidays?" might be one question, or "would you say that you frequently go out for drinks as part of your team and company culture?" might be another. And then watch the responses. You might not get a clear sense of what the alcohol culture is like at the company, but you will probably get some hints. Trust your instinct about whether you think it will be a good fit, and remember, if you choose to drink in a professional setting, maintain professionalism. You can let your hair down afterwards with friends who don't evaluate your professional performance.