In decades past, cracking open a cold one or sipping on a pour of scotch weren’t just okay at work — it was downright expected! In the Mad Men era of the 1950s and 1960s, every office had a bar and every member of a company’s staff could indulge in a drink or two while getting down to work.
And though it sounds surprising, having a boozy beverage at work was actually a great idea.
Drinking may not be the most appropriate workplace activity anymore, but it can have a surprising effect on your productivity. What your boss — and your company’s HR team — don’t realize is just how beneficial an alcoholic beverage can be for employees’ focus, efficiency, and creative thinking.
If you’re looking to improve your problem-solving skills, open your mind to new ideas, and spur new perspective, drinking on the job can do wonders for you.
Alcohol Gets Your Creative Juices Flowing
One reason we get “stuck” or distracted at work is out of boredom. If your brain isn’t be challenged, you aren’t going to be able to think of creative alternatives or new ideas.
And solving a problem with a creative solution requires unusual thinking. You can’t find a fresh solution unless you can approach a situation, task, or problem from a completely different mindset. To get creative, you need a more unique brain state. That’s exactly where alcohol can be useful.
Here’s how it works.
When you’re stuck in a mental rut, alcohol intoxication can literally help you free your mind by reducing your working memory capacity.
Working memory capacity is the measure of how well you can control your focus. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that having alcohol in your bloodstream — specifically, with a blood alcohol content of 0.07 — people often zoned out while working on a task. And when they stopped paying attention, they ended up performing better in creative situations.
Simply put, as alcohol decreases your ability to focus, you stop paying attention to the little things. This, in turn, actually removes the obstacles that can zap your focus and steal your attention. You’re able to tune everything out and let your mind run wild. And that’s when you’ll come up with new, creative ideas you never noticed or considered before.
Having a Boozy Drink Helps You Make New Connections
In addition to increasing your creativity, sipping on a drink while you’re hard at work can also help you connect the dots and generate better ideas.
When you’re trying to focus or concentrate, you work hard to try to tune out anything that tries to steal your attention. But in attempting to avoid distractions, you’re actually missing out on innovative opportunities. For example, if desperately trying to ignore a coworker who’s singing out loud, you’re going to block out everything else too.
In order to generate new ideas and encourage innovation, you need to let your mind wander — and you need to give in to distractions. You never know when a noise, movement, or even Internet distraction break could give you a breakthrough idea.
That’s where alcohol comes in. A boozy beverage will loosen up your mind and make it tougher to focus. And, with a wandering mind that’s primed for distractions, you’ll be better able to pick up on clues and unique ideas. Research has shown that the altered mental state created by drinking lets a “new” part of your brain loose, which in turn opens you up to entirely new ideas and possibilities.
Having a drink literally changes the way your brain works. Usually, your brain’s left hemisphere works the hardest, especially when you’re trying to stay focused. But alcohol brings the right hemisphere of your brain into action as your ability to control your attention decreases. This allows you to make deeper connections. And suddenly, you’re able to notice what’s different.
Cocktails Cause You to Work Faster
Many people think drinking alcohol slows you down. And that popular opinion certainly isn’t wrong. When you’re consuming alcohol, your response time slows down. You can also struggle to process complex concepts and, as mentioned above, you can’t exactly focus your attention well.
But drinking a beer or enjoying a glass of wine can actually make you a more efficient worker. Instead of slowing you down, alcohol can ramp up your productivity, helping you to generate ideas faster — and better ideas too.
Dave Birss conducted an experiment to see just how productive employees can be while drinking. Birss and his team divided a group of advertising creatives in two: one group got to drink endless cocktails, and the other drank only water. The groups were tasked with brainstorming advertising campaigns, and the results showed that Team Booze was both more productive and more creative than Team Sober. The drinkers came up with 23 percent more ideas, and their ideas were much better.
So, while you definitely don’t want to overindulge, having a drink or two can get your brain working harder and more creatively. While it might not seem like you’re more focused, the ideas you generate while slightly intoxicated could be better than your best sober ones.
Save Your Drinking for Creative Tasks
Ready to break out a case of beer at the office? While there’s plenty of value in drinking while at work, you might not want to dive into the idea head first.
Booze may be great for creative projects and problems, but it does have its drawbacks. It can hamper any tasks that require logical thinking, prevent you from accomplishing any tasks that require attention to detail or intense focus, and make mechanical processes, like driving a car or typing, or following instructions much more difficult.
Instead, try to strike a compromise: take your brainstorming sessions out of the office and to your favorite happy hour spot. Have a drink or two when you’re trying to come up with creative ideas and new approaches to longstanding problems. You can even use alcohol to help you with non-work tasks, like DIY projects or jobs that need to be done at home. And when you’re in the office, you can keep your head clear for any detail-intense tasks by staying sober.