The workplace has become an arena that is intense, competitive, and sometimes overwhelming. The boundary between work and leisure is often blurred. Accomplishments at work, for many, are the litmus test of success. The workplace is now a premiere arena where our successes may be celebrated, but also where our vulnerabilities, insecurities, and fears come to the surface. In this context, there is speculation that some workers may be driven to drink because of their experiences in the workplace. This may be equally true for steamfitters, bankers, and professors--for all of us. Clearly the workplace does not account for all drinking behavior, but it could be one possible source. What is it in the workplace environment stimulates drinking behavior?
An article, "Driven to Drink: Managerial Control, Work-Related Risk Factors, and Employee Problem Drinking," published in the Academy of Management Journal examines self-report data from 3,800 workers across eight blue-collar unions. The authors propose three possible explanations as to why the workplace experience may drive people to drink.
One explanation is workplace alienation--that is, workers drink to cope with work or a work situation that leaves them feeling powerless. Alienation can lead not only to physical and mental decline but also to a weakening of one's ties to one's family and community.
A second explanation is simply stress. In this perspective, workers engage in drinking to counter to stress and cope with negative effects of the job.
The last explanation has to do with workplace culture. Within any culture, the expectations and rules are transmitted to its members, and the workplace is no exception. In this perspective, workplaces that have a lax or welcome attitude toward drinking will encourage more of that behavior--both on and off the job.
External workplace factors, such as personal history, home life, etc., may provide a more robust explanation for drinking behavior that any single workplace factor. Nonetheless, these three perspectives--alienation, stress, and culture--are often presented workplace-related variables that stimulate employee drinking.
The question is, what can leaders and supervisors do about this? Obviously, engaging individuals and making sure they find the work fulfilling while at the same time helping them cope with stress is essential. However, the authors argue that the most important factor in accounting for some drinking behavior is workplace culture. In organizations where permissive drinking norms are signaled, the effects of alienation and stress are magnified dramatically. Indeed, the workplace drinking culture dwarfs any other explanatory factor. Workplace culture matters, and leaders and supervisors are carriers of that culture. They are the ones who model appropriate behavior, and make it clear what is tolerated and not tolerated, and what is acceptable and unacceptable. Leaders and supervisors have an important yet often unnoticed role in curbing employee drinking behavior.
Programmatic efforts such as Employee Assistance Programs and stress-reduction initiatives have a crucial role to play in the intervention, prevention, and treatment of alcohol-related behavior, but the importance of leadership in creating a workplace culture that does not implicitly or explicitly stimulate drinking cannot be overestimated.