"Reasonably temperate alcohol consumption turns us from mindless automatons focused relentlessly on workplace issues into people with hobbies, interests and points of view". Photo: HBO
When I sat down to write in defense of workplace drinks, I thought this was going to be easy. Who doesn’t love Friday drinks? MANY PEOPLE, it turns out. Confusingly, there is a plethora of articles urging caution at the idea of consuming anything stronger than Ribena with one’s workmates.
Note that I’m not talking about hitting the bottle at your desk. If you find yourself reaching for the hip flask at 10am on Tuesday morning, I’d advise you to seek out a new job and the services of a qualified drug and alcohol counselor, not necessarily in that order. And to be clear, nor do I think that all workplace social events should include alcohol. It’s important to be inclusive of non-drinkers (those clear-eyed, dewy-skinned jerks), those with caring responsibilities, and those who just aren’t inclined towards spending their evenings with people they see all day.
I’m also conscious of the distinction between workplace drinks that provide fun opportunities to unwind, and those that are socially mandated torture sessions where you’re imprisoned in a smoke-filled room with a gaggle of suit-wearing jackasses and forced to laugh tonelessly at your manager’s tired (and quite frequently pretty sexist) jokes. What I do support is a culture of respectful, inclusive, occasional socialising with an eye to spending a couple of hours consuming a reasonable amount of wine with colleagues as a pleasing segue into the weekend.
Just speaking for myself, I’m all in favour of booze at any occasion where I’m forced to meet new people, as it is the cheapest, easiest and most painless cure for debilitating social awkwardness. Two glasses of Shiraz, and my internal monologue will generally transform seamlessly from ‘Oh my god, what is wrong with you? Do you have spinach in your teeth?? JUST GO STAND BY THE BINS AND TRY NOT TO BOTHER ANYONE’ to ‘It’s OK, little buddy! You can do small talk! Go on, ask that girl where she bought those cute shoes!’. I’m not 100% convinced that this process doesn’t involve sorcery (although I am certain that my disastrous first day at kindergarten would have gone much better were it acceptable for 4 year olds to be a little bit soused). All I know is that I enjoy having an avenue by which I can go from being the super odd girl who obsessively talks about work, to being the slightly odd girl who also talks about ‘90s teen films and the proper method for making marmalade.
Even for those whose brains don’t moonlight as Regina George impersonators (and oh, how I envy you lucky bastards), reasonably temperate alcohol consumption turns us from mindless automatons focused relentlessly on workplace issues into people with hobbies, interests and points of view.
Friday drinks are where Brian from Finance who is endlessly exasperated by your inability to understand a simple spreadsheet becomes Brian who skydives and once saw Madonna drinking a pint in a London pub. They allow us to remember our common humanity in the face of spreadsheet-based persecution and other workplace quirks and foibles. (Incidentally, names have been changed to protect the innocent, and also because in my mind everyone who works in Finance is called Brian, even the ladies.)
Finally, my rigorous data collection indicates that a significant number of Australians meet their partners at work. I would be able to provide you with actual statistics if I hadn’t become lost down an internet black hole researching famous couples who met in the workplace (let’s just say that I presume we’d all prefer to emulate Barack and Michelle Obama than Newt and Callista Gingrich in this regard).
I’d venture that alcohol features fairly heavily in most workplace romances, for the simple reason that it transforms the ridiculously attractive person who floats past your desk as you blush and struggle not to make inappropriately high pitched noises, into the ridiculously attractive person with whom you played pool and had a heated discussion about Springsteen lyrics.
I suspect I’m not alone in spending more time with my colleagues than I do with my family. Fortunately I work with a delightful bunch of people whom I like immensely. I’m not suggesting that drinks should be our sole forum for social interaction (I’m the world’s biggest supporter of workplace netball leagues, if only because it’s deeply humanizing to witness colleagues getting worked up about what constitutes a three foot distance and whether it’s permissible for accidental scratching to go un-penalised). But Friday drinks provide a unique and sometimes quite lovely space for unhurried conversation, where we can find out about our colleagues’ lives, what they do in their spare time, how they make marmalade and where they bought those cute shoes, and I for one wouldn’t give that up for the world.
 After previously wading into the murky and humorless territory occupied by people who can’t stop talking about their food allergies, I feel it incumbent upon me to note that I’m not actually advocating giving wine to 4 year olds. Unless they’re REALLY shy.