What You Really Need to Know About Office Drinking
Drinking in the office is really not all it's cracked up to be. Drinking in the office sort of sucks, and not only because none of your coworkers are Roger Sterling and Don Draper.
It's that time of year again, in which we're all gearing up for the new season of Mad Men, and if you've ever watched the show, you know it's full of images of dapper men drinking in the office, sometimes with their lady friends and/or female coworkers. (But mostly, of course, it's the men.) You know there are scenes in which well-dressed people—like Roger Sterling, like Don Draper—lounge on couches, exhausted from so many vodkas, so many Old-Fashioneds, or even pass out on office floors or run to office bathrooms to vomit after seven-million martini lunches. You may find this an ideal sort of work lifestyle and wish it were your own, but here is the thing: As a fan of extracurricular drinking and an expert at drinking in many places, I am comfortable calling B.S. on the glamorizing of office drinking. Drinking in the office is really not all it's cracked up to be. Drinking in the office sort of sucks, in part because none of your coworkers are Roger Sterling and Don Draper. But there are other reasons, too.
I bring this up because today there's an article in the New York Post about how New York City's hip and thriving digital industries are all about their office bars: "It's 5 p.m. on a Thursday, and Margaux Guyonneau is holding court behind a well-stocked bar. Into three lowball glasses, she plunks ice cubes, pours rye, then stirs in spoonfuls of powdered sugar. For a final flourish, she tops each drink with an orange slice."
Perhaps you haven't been drooled on by a sleeping, booze-soaked coworker you've spent the last hour serving drinks to in weeks; nonetheless, in her piece Christina Amoroso pronounces "the office cocktail alive and well," at least if you work in New York and in tech and marketing. There are parties and toasts and limitless "boozy gatherings," and there are also fully-stocked office bars. The benefits of this, according to the article, are that people actually talk while drinking in the office. They share! They confess! They bond! It's a veritable trust-fall-circle of boozing, just like it was back in Don Draper's day, except, of course, it's not at all—I imagine Don turning up his nose at chocolate-covered pretzels and cheery drink mix-offs. Never forget, Don's purpose in drinking in the office is not so he can bond with his coworkers. It's to numb the pain of his own existence. If that's what you're after, drink away! But know that it won't be fun.
That's the thing about drinking in the office. If you're going to do it, you should know the truth:
Drinking in the office is a ploy meant to get you to stay there forever. Amoroso is up front with this, quoting Business Insider advertising reporter Laura Stampler: "It also keeps people in the office longer. If you’re asked to spend a whole weekend in the office, you might as well have a beer as a reward." But, wait a gosh-darn second here! If you're asked to spend a whole weekend in the office, do you really want to stay longer in the office to have a drink? Let's be smart about our decision-making! There is a simple fact at work—yes, work—here. When your beloved boss walks by at 9:00 at night and asks if you want to finish off the whiskey that's been sitting at someone else's desk for 8 months, you may want to say yes, and perhaps you should. But you also should know in your heart and mind that if you say yes, you will not be taking that whiskey in a to-go cup and heading off into the quivering moonlight to meet some friends down the block. You will be sitting at your desk, or possibly standing, and you will be drinking, and then you will finish, and only then will you leave the office. You have just spent 30 minutes or possibly more drinking in an office when you might have been drinking in a park, a bar, your own home, your gym, wherever you like. Yes, free booze! But it comes at the price of freedom. Think about this next time you're excited about your free slice of pizza and beer at 10 p.m. when you've still got two hours of work to do. Oh, you just got office-played.
Drinking in the office is for amateurs. How does the old aphorism go? Goldschläger at work, you're gonna hurt; coffee in the day, hey hey hey? There is truth to that, even if I just made it up. There is a reason that no one wants to hang out in the office all night stumbling around and looking queasy after the tenth shot of tequila. Wasted time, wasted space, just wasted. But also, as the other aphorism goes, there's a reason they call it work. So the more you try to do "fun" things at work, the more you taint them with workiness. And the more drinks you have throughout the day, the worse your year-end review will go, which means that work's not too much fun, either. If you're working, be a professional. Amateurs don't get paid.
Forced bonding is hell. In the office, there are strings attached to your boozing. This is not just you hanging out in a bar, with your friends, ordering pickle-back shots, hailing a cab, falling onto your bed, sleeping and waking up in the morning. This is you in an office environment, full of computers and papers and books to trip over. This is you drinking near a bunch of expensive equipment that you have a good chance of spilling something on. But most of all this is you drinking in the office. Note, according to Amoroso, at one such place, "Each week, one or two employees are tasked with creating a cocktail and sharing a personal story behind the drink." Could anything be worse than having to be part of a sharing drink-circle? Get out while you can; avoid the pain of the "bonding beverage."
Why taint the joy of the non-office drink? The best place to drink is on a boat somewhere, the sun shining down on you, melting the ice in your plastic cup, the wind blowing your hair as you cut through the waves on your souped-up catamaran. You are alive with the very thrill of your own excellent existence. The second best place to drink is the bar, and the third best is your own home, or someone else's. So why would you want to drink in an airless environment surrounded by the sweat of your own toil, and yesterday's lunch crumbs? Not only does it undermine your drink to drink in the office, it undermines you. You are more than an office beer. And the next time you're drinking beer on your boat, do you really want to look at the label and remember the office?
Someone is not telling you the whole truth about drinking in the office. A bunch of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago "found that slightly intoxicated participants were better and faster at creative problem-solving tasks compared to their sober counterparts," writes Amoroso. Surely these are very smart people. But if you've ever spent a whole day, starting out, say, at 10 or 11 a.m., with a warming whiskey and tonic, or maybe a sidecar, by your side, you know that there is a strong diminishing returns effect going on with drinking while working. Maybe for a brief blip around noon you'll be able to solve all the problems of the world, but after that, oh, it's a long course down a rocky hill that you may or may not remember the next day, but for the bruises. If you're me, a glass of wine at lunchtime will fill you with intense joy, so much joy that you are going to forget you even need to return to work, and then, whoops, well, that's not so great.
The day-drinking hangover is worse, and the in-office hangover is the worst of all. You know this well if you've ever been to a music festival or some other day-drinking extravaganza that does not involve the beach at a tropical resort. Day-drinking in the office has a particularly burdensome aftermath, largely because you'll have to stay awake and work through your hangover instead of lying in bed, or under your desk, or, again, in the sunshine on a beach, to take a much-needed afternoon nap. And, yes ...
You are going to want to take a nap. Did you hear that all the cubicles are dying as offices adopt open plans for more bonding and conviviality? This means that you can't even put your head down on your desk and grab a few winks of shut-eye. Unless you are very, very important, I suspect you don't have a couch in your private office. Unless you are very, very brazen, you probably don't want to waltz into the boss's office and lie down on his or her couch, or lie on the floor, or sleep in plain sight of everyone on your non-ergonomic chair. Sleeping in the bathroom is unhygienic and noisy, too. You can't very well just go home. Park benches leave splinters. What's an office drinker to do? Maybe don't drink in the office. What's wrong, again, with the bar? The bar is dimly lit and perfect for naps.
If you must drink in the office, do it carefully. Despite all of the above, there will be times that you will decide to drink in the office. That's fine. I suggest doing it wisely. Read Ross McCammon's guide at Esquire for a few tips (don't drink more than your boss is a good one). Just because Mad Men is back doesn't mean we can't have some fun outside the office. It's a big, beautiful world out there. Also, it's rosé season. Drink it after work, or even on weekends, for best results.
Inset images via Flickr/Michael Verhoef; Flickr/LonelyBob; Flickr/Indi Samarajiva.