Many of the key moments of our working lives are punctuated or fuelled by alcohol. From leaving drinks to boozy client lunches where important business conversations are had and relationships forged, drink has become an integral part of the culture of most organisations and industries – perhaps none more so than the ad industry, where I’ve spent the last 20 years.
So given the massive role that drinking often plays in every aspect of business, what happens when you choose to say no?
As the chief executive of a major media agency group, drinking is practically in my job description. In fact, when I attempted to abstain from alcohol a few years ago, my clients and colleagues had plenty to say on the matter – and not a lot of it was positive.
Now, over half way through a year of no drinking, I’m finding that while the benefits I’m seeing are huge, the responses of others are indicative of a work culture with a seriously unhealthy relationship with booze.
Since taking on my latest challenge, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of industry peers who’ve praised my choice and told me that they’d love to do the same, but feel they just can’t due to the pressure to entertain and socialise.
It seems like even when we want to, we can’t actually say no.
Has booze become a crutch?
Having spent the last seven months alcohol-free, I’m feeling great. My mind is clearer, my health has improved, and I’m a better husband, father, and business leader. It’s ironic, given that alcohol has often been a crutch for me during difficult times at work, as I know it is for many.
Indeed, it was starting my current role at 39 – a hugely challenging position to take on at a relatively young age – that led to me drinking more, and then questioning my relationship with booze.
There’s no doubt that, when used to excess, alcohol has the potential to have a huge impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. NABS – the employee support organisation for the advertising and media industry – agrees with me on this, which is why I’m using my year-long challenge as a way to raise funds for it.
Like me, NABS believes that business leaders should be addressing the way in which alcohol can dominate the culture of a company and affect its people in a negative way, particularly in times of high stress.
In an era when many businesses are striving for diversity and inclusion, we should also acknowledge that many of our people abstain from drinking for personal, cultural or religious reasons, and that they should not be stigmatised for doing so.
To be clear, I’m not arguing for a blanket ban on booze. I just want to highlight what I believe is an often-dangerous reliance on drink in the workplace.
Should every celebration or social revolve around alcohol? Would our clients really desert us if we opted out of our annual all-dayers in favour of something more sober?
Having spoken to many who feel the pressure to get involved in these activities, it seems like drinking has become so ingrained in our working cultures that we’re all too scared not to take part – or we’ve become so reliant on alcohol as a social lubricant that we can’t imagine work functions without it.
I believe that leaders have a responsibility to their people to ensure that drink is no longer a non-negotiable part of business culture – and recognise that, due to the negative impact alcohol can have on mental and physical wellbeing, the hangover often isn’t worth it.
Matt Adams is chief executive UK & Ireland for Havas Group Media, and is raising money for NABS. To sponsor him, click here.