Why did I feel so pressured to drink at work?

Annie Grace | May 2019 | 9 minutes

Sober Spring week eight: When she stopped drinking, Annie Grace became very aware of the drinking culture at work. It got her wondering: why are alcohol and business so linked?

I don’t know how or why it started but it seems that somehow alcohol and business have become intimately interwoven. 

When I quit, it came as a shock how important alcohol is perceived to be when it comes to business dealings. From business dinners and cocktail hours to trade shows and golf outings - booze is always on the menu and the expectation that you will drink is there.  What is it like to be a non-drinker in the corporate world and what’s the secret to being successful at it?

Go in aware

Naively, I didn’t think my decision to stop drinking would be a big deal at work, or affect my job as an executive in marketing. In fact, I thought that others would be excited for me and supportive. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I actually experienced a huge amount of push back and pressure to drink.

So, go in aware. You may get a lot of push back, or it might not ruffle any feathers. Either way, your best strategy here is to really be committed to not drinking, regardless of reactions.

Defence wins games

Once I realised that my not drinking felt like an issue because of how others reacted to it, I came up with my defence plan. I always, always made sure to arrive early and have a drink in hand before the event began. No one other than myself and the bartender needed to know that my vodka tonic was really just tonic and lime. The important part was that it put others at ease and made me one of them in their eyes.

Shift the focus

It’s really difficult to feel like you’re under a microscope and have the focus be on you and not drinking. I found the best way to combat that was to stop making it about me. Get people engaged in conversation and allow them to talk about themselves. Make it your intention for the night to really dig deep and get to know the clients, their motivation and what is important to them. People can sense self-doubt which creates negative energy so shift the focus to why you’re really there and you’ll appear confident in their eyes.

Saying no

No one needs to know why you’re not drinking. The choice of how much or how little to say lies with you. If you feel inclined to give an explanation there’s many ways to do so gracefully.
"I have an early morning tomorrow.”
“I can’t drink on my medication.”
“I’m driving.”
“I’m training for a marathon.”
“I’m on a diet.”
“Wine gives me migraines.”
For the most part though, if you already have a drink in hand, most won’t question what you’re drinking.

Have an escape plan

Remember that you always have permission to leave. If you’re not having fun, make it an early night. It’s certainly important to show up, network and socialise at corporate events but we all know that after a certain point in the night - nothing good happens. It’s no longer about business at this stage and you’re no longer needed. So get there early, get seen and by all means leave before things get messy.

You have the edge

The fact that you aren’t drinking really is like a ninja skill you possess that others don’t. It makes you more productive, sharper, and you'll remember everything discussed. Because you’re of sound mind, you can retain everything that was said and use it to your advantage.

While it might still seem like the business world is soaked in more booze than grandma’s rum cake - there are signs out there that give us hope. Whether due to social responsibility or fears of legal liability, many companies are moving away from a culture of drinking so you just might be a trendsetter. 

If you’re looking for other ways to shift the mindset, take on organising events and meetings that don’t encourage drinking. I had a client who always scheduled morning meetings and would bring coffee and bagels for everyone. It wasn’t until after I left the company that he revealed to me that he too was a non-drinker and that was one of his tricks to avoid the awkward booze-filled events! So remember you're not alone, and most importantly - you have the edge.

Even if you're trying to cut down on your drinking, you might still be affected by pressures to drink at work or work-related events. This definitely isn't a problem faced only by people taking part in Sober Spring! You can use Annie's tactics above to avoid being talked into having a drink if you don't feel like one, whatever your reasons may be.