Race to the Top: A Drink at Lunch?

Q: I have just joined a new company and I noticed that people drink at lunch. Is it okay to do so?

A: In a word, “No.” I think I mentioned in a previous column, that the secret to success in corporate America is to be a high performer and to be known for what you are good at – certainly, drinking does not fit the bill. But just in case a simple answer is not good enough for you, let’s consider this question in terms of common opposing views. Opponents to drinking during work hours will typically say 1) it’s just wrong, 2) it’s risky and/or 3) it’s a trap. People who say that it’s just wrong or inappropriate basically follow my logic: you don’t get paid to drink at work, so why would you? Those who say it’s too risky tend to acknowledge that there are some environments in which drinking during the work day might not necessarily hurt your career, but it can. A drink with one group of people might not be bad, but put the wrong person in the mix and things can get complicated quickly. The people who argue that drinking during the day is a “trap,” typically believe that your work “friends” or colleagues will want you to drink essentially to see you let your guard down. That might sound paranoid, but I do know people who had an innocent drink with colleagues that had a very bad result: too much talking about the wrong things.

The proponents for drinking during the workday tend to say that 1) it can help you get ahead, 2) it’s culturally accepted and 3) it’s not a big deal. Those who say it can help you get ahead tend to argue that it helps you bond with your colleagues and/or your boss. These same folks also tend to put a premium on “fitting in.” However, they tend to drink during work hours and after work differently. People who say, flat out, it’s part of the culture, tend to use successful people in the organization to prove the point, i.e., “Joe drinks and he is a Vice President.” To them, I’d simply say, there are probably some other reasons that Joe has the job; always be careful about drawing conclusions about cause and effect – it can be very misleading. The people who say it’s not a big deal, frankly, tend to be the same group of people who don’t think ahead about any aspects of their career, so it is hard for me to take this group seriously.

Race to the Top is a column about just that: getting ahead faster than anyone else. That means, learning about corporate culture, navigating tricky situations and avoiding forced errors. I’d put drinking during the day into the last category. And, if you do decide to enjoy social time with your colleagues after work, keep this column in mind.

Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs. She wants to answer your career questions – so you can get ahead at work. Email your questions to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com <mailto:Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com> , rttcareers@gmail.com or through your favorite connection to the Houston Forward Times.