AMERICA has a proud history of drinking on the job. Craftsmen who built the first government buildings in the 17th century were sometimes paid in brandy. The 19th-century railroaders who laid the foundations of modern America were notoriously thirsty. And anyone who thinks that “Mad Men”, a TV drama in which 1960s advertising executives spend the working day sucking up Scotch, is a pastiche, would do well to talk to an account manager from the time—though his memory may be hazy.
America also has a long tradition of temperance. From the Washingtonian movement to Prohibition, there have been many attempts to sober up the workforce. Today, it seems that the battle is over and the killjoys have won.
A glass of something fizzy over lunch with an American executive now means sparkling water. The three-Martini lunch fell into decline in the 1970s, the victim of sober economic times that demanded clear-headed executives, and also of political pressure: Jimmy Carter made it an issue in the 1976 presidential campaign.
A-ha! So it was a teetotalling Baptist president who is partly responsible!
Another recent paper from the journal Consciousness and Cognition by psychologists at the University of Illinois confirms what many have long suspected: a couple of drinks makes workers more creative. Tipsy employees, they say, find it hard to focus on a task, but this makes them more likely to come up with innovative ideas. This may help to explain the success of Silicon Valley, one of the last workplaces in America where hard and soft drinks still jostle for space in the company fridge.
Smart companies; they also have lounges where employees can nap…