In the past two decades, most corporations have established a culture that discourages the use of alcohol on the job.
According to Bloomberg News, many high tech companies are bucking this trend by relaxing the no-alcohol rule and providing employees with free booze during working hours.
At the San Francisco headquarters of Yelp, the user review website, an unlimited supply of beer is provided by a “kegerator” (keg refrigerator). Employees at Twitter can help themselves to beer and wine from a company-stocked refrigerator. The management at high tech companies recognizes that employees are putting in long hours and that the dividing line between work and home is often blurred. At the same time, there is a belief that employees are responsible enough to moderate their alcohol consumption during work. According to Twitter spokesperson Jodi Olson, “We treat employees as adults, and they act accordingly.”
Although the products created by high tech companies may be new, the problems caused by alcohol in the workplace have not suddenly disappeared. When a company makes alcohol part of the work culture, there will inevitably be employees who are unable to limit their drinking. Besides putting some employees at risk of alcohol abuse and dependence, alcohol in the workplace can create an atmosphere that supports sexual harassment. A 2004 Cornell University study found more incidents of harassment incidents in offices where heavy drinking is the norm.
At the same time that workplace drinking in high tech companies is on the rise, Psychology Today reports that fewer workplace programs addressing employee alcohol abuse are being developed, despite that fact that these programs have been shown to be effective. There is a clear need for these programs since statistics from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicate that approximately 8% of full-time workers admit to drinking 5 or more drinks on 5 or more occasions per month. A corporate policy that encourages drinking could be the push that sends these workers into more serious problems with alcohol.
There are a number of hidden costs in the workplace associated with alcohol abuse and dependence. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management estimates that employees with alcohol problems have an absenteeism rate that is 4 to 8 times greater than for employees who don’t have a problem. On-the-job accidents and injuries are also more common among heavy drinkers.
High tech companies that are rewarding hard work with free drinks may find that the productivity of some workers is impacted by their drinking. There are also possible legal issues, such as a company’s liability if an employee who has been drinking at work is later involved in a car accident. Given the age-old problems associated with drinking in the workplace, many experts are questioning whether long hours spent at work justify a corporate culture that includes alcohol.