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The Future of Work

The Correlation Between Drinking With Coworkers And Success

New research sheds light on the relationship between drinking and climbing the social ladder.

[Image: Flickr user Seth Anderson]

We now have data on that creeping notion that the "cool kids" in college were more popular because they knew how to party harder.

A new study, with the fitting title "Drinking To Reach The Top," found that more frequent drinking is linked to higher social status. The study is set to be published in the October issue of Addictive Behaviors.

The researchers’ methodology involved catching 357 Ontario youths in their "natural drinking groups," heading to bars, and surveyed them about their relationships and booze-habits within those groups.

For both sexes, more drinks in one outing meant higher social standing. Binge-drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting for males, or four or more for females.

With more young people going on to take leadership positions, how does this look in the modern workplace?

More offices are drinking "al desko," as the Standard aptly coins the reappearance of whiskey cabinets from the '50s—plus wine trolleys, beers in the board room, and the after-hours networking that comes with a vodka-sponsored glass in hand.

If you’ve ever wished you could have a strong drink before a big presentation, you’ll envy the employees at Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Their brainstorm sessions come with liquid courage. "People often hold back their ideas because they're afraid of rejection. So group brainstorm sessions typically end up being awkward and unproductive," says founder Jonathan Ages. "Having beer on the conference table adds to a relaxed and fun air in our Think & Drink brainstorms, encouraging people to share their ideas more freely—making the meetings more productive and enjoyable."

Professional peer pressure

Why is having a whiskey—or five—considered the mark of an overachiever or "team player," when we know binging is destructive in the long run?

Even outside of the college and millennial-led startup world, professionals feel the pressure to fit in. Dana Humphrey, owner of Whitegate PR, spent 2013 sober, to reign in on the open bars and wine tasting world of her industry. "I got negative feedback from PR colleagues and even clients from the year off," she says. "A lot of business deals still happen over a drink!" When she picked the glass back up this year, colleagues were relieved—even if they weren't going out together, the knowledge that she was allowing social drinking again was an odd relief to her peers.

"Instead of inspiring young people to drink, we hope that our findings encourage prevention programming that addresses young people’s status-related concerns around drinking and teaches them how to be socially integrated while also adopting responsible drinking practices," Dr. Tara Dumas, co-author of the study, told the Daily Beast.

There is a tipping point to popularity in the study: Participants who reported having more than 12 drinks at a time had the same, or less, social standing as the ones who didn’t binge. "Depending on the company culture, it can be expected to be able to party as hard as you work, maybe even harder," says Dr. Constance Scharff, senior addiction research fellow and director of addiction research for treatment center Cliffside Malibu. "Those who can burn the candle at both ends and still produce often are well-respected by their peers and build strong, large social networks."

Are more popular, "work hard play hard" people just heavier drinkers to begin with, due to a personality type—and not vice-versa?

"We don't have a good answer to this question," Scharff admits. The correlation between power and alcohol is a tenuous one. "It is probably at least partially true that most people are more fun to be around when they've tied one on, are more affectionate, affable and funny. When these traits are enhanced through drinking, it can temporarily make a likable person 'the life of the party.' However, the negative consequences come on quickly and can be negatively life-altering."

Some happy-hour advice

Before we kill your buzz, all this isn't to suggest that you cancel the company party and unplug the beer fridge. Happy hours can be a great networking tool, when done wisely.

Levo League has a few pieces of advice for clinking with colleagues:

Take the opportunity to connect with your coworkers after-hours or at company sponsored social events. Meeting up for drinks is a great time to build relationships with people you wouldn’t normally interact with in the office, and talk about something other than how stressed you are about deadlines.

Know your limits and stick to your own plan. It’s easy to let time slip away once you’re off-site and having a great time. If you have to, set a buzzing alarm on your phone for a push when you need to leave. In the short-term, being known as the last one out could give you a popularity push, but, Scharff says, "longer-term outcomes can have severe negative consequences including job and relationship losses, poor health, and an irreparably damaged reputation."

Respect boundaries and remember that in the Instagrammable, Facebook-tagging world we live in, nothing that happens at the bar is guaranteed to stay at the bar.

And lastly, remember that you don’t have to drink. If you need to hold a glass to keep your social nerves from jittering, make it a soda. If you choose to pass on the booze, be confident about it.