Go Ahead, Have a Beer at the Office
One benefit of being a business owner and your own boss is that you set the rules and can feel free to break them if you find a good business case to do so. What kind of rules can you safely chuck aside? How about the one that says drinking on the job is always a bad idea.
If you operate heavy machinery or wash windows 50 stories up, stop reading now, but for those office-bound folks whose jobs entail being creative at work, there's new research that suggests an occassional drink or two might do you and your business some good. A study by a team led by University of Illinois cognitive psychologist Andrew Jarosz recently looked into the effects of mild intoxication on creative problem solving, publishing the results in Consciousness and Cognition.
To test the anecdotal observation that creativity and moderate amounts of alcohol often go together, Jarosz's team split a group of 40 male study participants into two groups, one of which abstained from alcohol and one of which drank a quantity of vodka with the equivalent alcohol of two pints of beer. Both groups then performed a standard test of insightful thinking called the Remote Associates Test, which asks subjects to find a link between three words. The BPS Research Digest summarizes the results:
The key finding of the new research is that the intoxicated participants solved more items on the Remote Associates Test compared with the control participants (they solved 58% of 15 items on average vs. 42% average success achieved by controls), and they tended to solve the items more quickly (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds). Moreover, the intoxicated participants tended to rate their experience of problem solving as more insightful, like an Aha! moment, and less analytic.
Of course, there are serious caveats here, including the obvious key word, "moderate." No one is suggesting getting sloshed is good for much of anything other than causing embarrassment and a headache, nor should your office drinking reach Don Draper levels of consistency. Study co-author Jenny Wiley stressed this point to BPS: "We tested what happens when people are tipsy—not when people drank to extreme. There could be no argument from these findings that drinking excessively would have the same effects."
And the context of the drinking matters as much as the quantity. Tasks that involve fine motor skills, dangerous activities, or focused concentration on routine tasks, are clearly not going to benefit from you having a couple of beers. But if you're at the office puzzling over a problem late in the afternoon one day and have the impulse to enjoy a drink to get the ideas flowing, this research suggests that you should feel free to go ahead.
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.