Strategy

The CEO Poll: Booze at lunch is a bad idea

CEOs say drinks are fine at holiday parties but are inappropriate at meetings.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

While it may be tradition to enjoy some beer or wine with your colleagues at this time of year, many CEOs say that the booze isn’t flowing as freely as it did in years gone by. In a recent Compas Inc. poll, 68% of CEOs said alcohol in the workplace plays less of a role than it did 20 years ago.

Most executives said it’s no longer acceptable to drink at lunches or meetings during regular work hours, giving the practice a mean score of 2.0 on a 7-point scale, where 1 means very inappropriate and 7 means very appropriate. Having drinks during a lunch with an average client or prospective client was also seen as a no-no — the CEOs gave it 3.2 on a 7-point scale. However, executives felt that it was OK to have a drink if the specific client was expecting alcohol to be offered during the meal.

One CEO who has been with a company for 40 years remembers the days when liquor was at every meeting. ‘We changed our policy,’ the exec says, ‘because we found that alcohol was the source of most of our substance abuse problems among management and workforce alike.’

However, the chief executives felt that drinking is acceptable when employees are entertaining clients after-hours. The respondents also felt it was appropriate to have some alcohol when celebrating major business successes, and at workrelated holiday, birthday and retirement parties.

For executives who do find themselves out drinking with a client, 47% said two drinks were appropriate, while 41% said just one was enough. One exec put it simply: ‘One at lunch; one per hour at dinners; take a taxi home at employer’s expense.’ In terms of paying for the drinks, an overwhelming 88% of execs considered it wrong to bill an employer for drinking during staff lunches or meetings during work hours.

The main concern that CEOs cited in regard to alcohol was potential legal risks, followed by public-relations risks. ‘I don’t believe the concern is with the use of alcohol but with the misuse,’ said one exec. ‘A social drink is OK, while getting half drunk is not OK under any business-related circumstances.’