Drinking with the Boys
The pressures of alcohol within the professional world
If you’ve ever seen the television show Mad Men, try to recall every episode when a character (specifically the male characters) were holding a glass of liquor in their hand —if you can recall, it’s a lot of episodes. If you haven’t seen or heard of the show, then let me paint you a picture.
It’s the 1960’s. Men are dominating the advertising industry (which honestly doesn’t seem too far off from present day). There are a dozen men in business suits holding a meeting in a conference room. A very large deal is about to take place. When the deal is finally made, the men shake each other’s hands and proceed to celebrate by immediately opening a bottle of scotch.
I’ve found myself in some version of this scenario many times in the past given the fact that I’ve been working in the advertising industry for several years now. And just recently, I again found myself in some version of this scenario.
It was a Friday afternoon and work was winding down as I was discussing a client proposal with two of my male colleagues. We wrapped up just before five o’clock. Then, once we were done, one of my colleagues opens up a bottle of liquor (whether it was scotch, whiskey, or whatever, I’m honestly not too sure). He takes out plastic cups and begins to pour. I politely decline. Eventually, I accept a beer instead just to stay in the conversation.
I’ve been in this situation before where I didn’t really want to drink alcohol, but I said yes anyways because I didn’t want to be the odd one out. So, I’d suck it up and have a drink. It’s like that feeling of being in school again where you’d rather do something just to fit in than deal with the consequences of being bullied because you stood by what you believed.
But, as I got older, I gained a stronger sense of self.
It got a lot easier for me to say no to things that I didn’t want to do. I started to care less about what people thought about me and started to care more about what made me happy. And in all honesty, drinking too often doesn’t really make me happy.
Feeling obliged to indulge in certain habits with colleagues, such as drinking, has been an issue that can sometimes disadvantage employees from getting ahead in their career. It shouldn’t be the case, but it is. And it’s not necessarily intentional. Someone doesn’t specifically get ahead because of the pure fact that they drink alcohol. Instead, it’s more about the bond that occurs over the mutual interest of drinking. It’s the relationship that forms over a drink.
Take for example a scene from an episode of Friends. One of the main characters, Rachel Green, is excluded from a decision that was made at work between her boss and another colleague over a casual cigarette. In the show, Rachel doesn’t smoke, so this excluded her from any conversation that was being had when her boss and colleague stepped outside for a smoke break. So, in order to be included, she attempts to take up smoking.
Or another example is from an episode from the new HBO series, Succession. One of the characters “enjoys” a glass of liquor with the main character and head honcho, Logan Roy, while discussing business plans. She is then later exposed by another character when they point out the fact that she doesn’t even like to drink.
Attempting to ignore the role that alcohol plays within the professional world is plain silly. The pressure that alcohol can put on us is so strong that it can make people feel like a “wet blank” or feel isolated from their team if they don’t drink. It can be the differentiator between whether or not two people even get along. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together”.
However, the fine line between “playing the game” at work and compromising your values has been one that many people have had to dance around for quite some time — myself included in that. Getting ahead based on the sole commonality of drinking an is unfair advantage. One shouldn’t have to feel it necessary to drink alcohol in order to fit in at work. It shouldn’t be an advantage in your career, but it is. So, where do we draw the line? Is having one drink just to stay top of mind even worth it if you don’t really want it?
No, there needs to be a change.
Work culture, and culture in general, needs to pivot from making alcohol the center of attention. But unfortunately, for those of us who don’t want even one drink, it will likely take some time for this shift to happen…if ever.