What’s the Problem?
I recently started in a senior role at a new company and participated in two separate offsites as part of my assimilation.
While the offsites were very productive, I was incredibly surprised by the after-hours consumption of alcohol. I enjoy an alcoholic beverage on occasion and have no problem with people who drink, but this was on a level that felt inappropriate for a work setting, and it made me very uncomfortable.
From what I can gather, drinking is seen as a way to build camaraderie at offsites—have everyone relax, let their hair down, and talk about things they might not share in the office. While that sounds good in theory, it was uncomfortable for me! I had people share things with me that made me cringe, and others asking questions that I felt crossed boundaries. At the risk of sounding puritanical, these experiences made me think less of a lot of my new colleagues.
I don’t want to say anything because I’m new, and I don’t want to put my values on other people. Plus, my boss was fully participating in the revelry, so I can’t imagine she’d share my qualms.
I don’t want to come across as too straightlaced, but this doesn’t feel like the best way to build a healthy culture or grow team spirit. Help! Do I speak up or suck it up and get over it?
Baffled by the Booze
What Do We Think?
Dear “Baffled by the Booze,”
Walking into a new corporate culture can be jarring—especially when it’s very different from what we’ve been used to. Let’s discuss the situation.
First, your question tells us that:
- You are up against a corporation’s cultural norm that perhaps has never been challenged–at least in a manner that has had an impact.
- Because you’re new, you are likely to think you’re the only one who feels this way.
- You’re not seeing this as a leadership opportunity for you but instead as a poor cultural fit.
So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? We think:
- You’re doubting your perceptions.
- You seem to think that your voice can’t affect change.
- You don’t see addressing the situation as part of your role.
- You are not framing this as a diversity issue—that non-drinkers or more introverted, temperate types are marginalized in this kind of culture.
What’s the Solution?
We’d encourage you to be courageous.
As a senior leader, your role is to talk about the elephant in the room, the undiscussables that others find hard to talk about, so we actually think it’s important that you do bring it up, even though you might not want to.
Here’s how we would approach it:
- Develop your ability to frame the issue in a way that doesn’t blame or shame people but inspires curiosity instead.
- Talk to your boss and tackle it as a diversity issue that you’d like more options around.
- Come prepared with creative ways for the team to let their hair down and build camaraderie that doesn’t center around alcohol.
In addition to addressing or attempting to “solve” the drinking issue, might we also suggest that you consider that what your colleagues bring up when tipsy might benefit the broader team?
Take note of the topics and issues people say when they’ve been drinking, those that might have relevance for the business, so you can see what needs to be discussed more directly in the sober light of day—and then bring it to the next meeting and do just that!
Even if your discussion with your boss doesn’t stop the drinking altogether, at the very least, you can remain responsible and use the information for change on the other side.
Best of luck!