Thursday, 14 January 2016

A Dying Tradition?

A few lines on Cooking Lager’s recent blog post “The Puritans are winning”, about a workplace tradition which has fallen by the way side, served to remind me that this is one particular custom I don’t miss. I am talking, of course, about the Friday lunchtime pint; that one time of the week when whole work’s departments would decamp to the pub for a few jars, a quick bite to eat and the chance to let their hair down.
This practice was very much the norm in offices, shops and other workplaces up and down the land. If some of tales I’ve heard are true, it was even quite common amongst people who had no business mixing drink with the safety critical work they were supposed to be carrying out. I also remember, not that long ago (alright  it was actually 20 years ago), when I was “between jobs”, and working as a Christmas casual at the local  Royal Mail sorting office, my amazement on discovering that postmen could walk straight in after their shift and have a quick bottle of brown ale in the bar attached to their restroom.

Times have obviously changed, along with people’s attitudes, and I know Cookie was trying to put this argument across on his blog. No-one in their right minds would disagree that excessive drinking has no place in the modern workplace, but now it seems that many organisations have taken things a whole stage further and banned staff from consuming any alcohol during work time altogether.

An old friend of mine, who is a retired railwayman, used to regale me with tales of horror about five pint lunchtimes, and whilst him and his colleagues were thankfully not employed in “safety critical” roles, he openly admits that they were not exactly giving their best when they returned to their desks on a Friday afternoon.

Matters came to a head on the railways, following a number of fatal incidents where drink and/or drugs had been involved, and the authorities (British Rail in those days), quite rightly clamped down hard in a determined bid to stamp out a culture of drinking which had been endemic in certain parts of the rail industry. A total blanket ban was imposed on staff, prohibiting them from having so much as a shandy whilst at work.

Still the norm for many City workers
The ban applied to all staff irrespective of where they worked or in what role. If you were just sat behind a desk you were still barred from consuming alcohol, in exactly the same way as train, track or signalling crew were. If, for example, someone in your office was celebrating a special occasion; birthday, getting married, retiring etc, it was necessary to book the afternoon off, and take your coat, brief case etc with you to the pub. You were not allowed back in the office/booking hall etc, under any circumstances, that same day.

This policy was obviously sensible, and managed to call time, if you’ll pardon the pun, on an activity which had once been commonplace on the railways. But what about other industries and other areas I hear you ask?

I have spent my entire working life in the private sector, and there I have to report a rather mixed bag. However, even though none of the companies I have worked for over the years expressly forbade employees from having a “swift one” at lunchtime, it would definitely be noticed when people made this a regular occurrence or they overstepped the mark.

It was quite common when I began my career to go for that Friday lunchtime drink. Many workers regarded it as the start of the weekend, and it no exaggeration to say productivity  suffered on  Friday afternoons. In my second job after graduating, I got into the habit of going for a Friday.lunchtime pint with a couple of colleagues from the engineering department.  Except it wasn't just the one pint; three blokes, meant three pints, as we all felt obliged to get a round in, and I honestly can say my work suffered when I got back in the afternoon, and I’m certain my colleagues did as well.

A lunchtime pint whilst walking the South Downs Way
It wasn’t really until the early 90’s, when a forced job relocation saw me working down in Lewes, which was the best part of an hour’s drive from my home in Tonbridge. Thankfully there was far less temptation in my new place of employment, to sneak off to the pub for a quick lunchtime pint. The factory was sited on the edge of town, which meant a drive into Lewes would have been necessary in order to grab a pint. The factory also had a decent canteen, so there was no need to go off site in search of something to eat.

It must have been around this three and a half year period of my working life that I realised I didn’t miss lunchtime drinking, whilst at work.  I could also add I’m not a huge fan of it when I’m not at work either; with the honourable exception of when I am on holiday, or out on a ramble.

There are two pubs within walking distance of where I work now, but I seldom visit either of them. If we have customers visiting, then it’s not unusual to take them for lunch at the larger of the two pubs. This is accepted and nobody bats an eyelid. I also know that should I wish to call in for a swift pint at either of these pubs, no-one would say a word. It would be different if I was to return the worse for drink, but I wouldn’t do it, and in fact don’t like going back to work after just a single pint.

I don’t know if it’s down to advancing years, but I find it difficult enough staying awake after lunch when stone cold sober. A couple of pints therefore would probably find me nodding off in front of my computer screen, so unless there’s a particularly good reason to go for a lunchtime beer (visiting customers, someone retiring etc), it’s nothing stronger than tea for me these days.

As I said above, I don’t miss going out for a lunchtime drink and, without sounding too sanctimonious, I feel my health and definitely my bank-balance are all the better for my abstinence.


m.lawrenson said...

The amusing thing is that many workplaces think they miss the sort of "group cohesion" these activities brought, and seek to replace them with 'organised' events such as pizza or curry nights. Usually held on a Saturday or a Sunday, a lot of people tend to get slaughtered on them, and spend the rest of the week apologising for their behaviour, or denying any of it ever happened.

After one too many of these events, I decided never to go on one again. In fact, I choose my regular drinking haunts by the unlikelihood of seeing anyone from work in them.

Cooking Lager said...

Thanks for the link

And yeh. I wasn't advocating that people drink six pints and drive trains, nor was I saying I much missed work place socializing. But what was the norm, is now verboten. I regularly work contracts where the staff are not allowed a lunchtime pint in their work contract. As a contractor it's not in my contract but I fit in with it. I want my day rate paid and don't give a monkeys about a drink. Unless the gig involves a train. A recent gig involved Leeds to Manchester and a can of Stella on the transpennine home but only on fridays.

It is one noticable change in my life towards drink being denormalized. I would never mention my beery hobby to an employer and I suspect Mudgies point about how an employer might view you if you said you were an active beardie is different now to 20 years ago and that too would affect a young career minded person joining one of the beard committees.

Having said all that I am working from home today. In my own little spare room office. I cracked open a bottle of pride about oneish as I was bored of tea.

Ed said...

I must admit I can't cope with lunch time drinking as it makes me want to sleep in the afternoon too. But I don't really agree with your general point. I think it's sad that there's less fun and more work nowadays.

Paul Bailey said...

Fortunately m.lawrenson, the company I work for is too small to have an HR Department, so we don’t get that sort of “team-building” nonsense foisted on us. Although there are one or two work colleagues I don’t mind having the occasional drink with, I am a firm believer of not mixing business with pleasure.

Working in a small village demonstrates the folly of not applying this rule. Many of the younger, male members of staff not only know each other outside of work, but also play cricket or rugby for the local village sides. Some are even related to each other. All well and good when things are ticking over nicely, but if it’s a matter for a bollocking, or more serious disciplinary matters, then potential conflicts of interests may arise.

Cookie, my employer knows all about my little hobby, but only because the former General Manager (now semi-retired), who took me on, is a member of the same beards club as me! Neither of us frequents the local pub(s) at lunchtime; preferring instead a brisk walk through the ever-changing Kentish landscape which surrounds our workplace.

Paul Bailey said...

Ed, I didn't mean that lunchtime drinking was bad (unless you were a passenger on a train with a pissed-up driver in charge!). All I said is I don't miss it personally, especially as I have to drive home after work. Like you, drink makes me sleepy in the afternoons, and as I am responsible for a busy department, falling asleep on the job would not help the work-flow, or be seen as a good example to the workforce.

They were good times though, in their day!

RedNev said...

I didn't go out for a lunchtime drink very often, partly because for many years I had a 20 mile drive home, and partly because my job often involved dealing with the public. Coincidentally, I have just written a post about politicians drinking on the job.

Curmudgeon said...

I agree with Matthew - going out for a lunchtime pint on Fridays is (or was) a good way of getting to know the people you work with.

In 1987-88 I worked for ICI at Blackley in North Manchester when we usually enjoyed a toastie and a couple of pints of Wilsons Bitter in the long-gone Old House at Home. Never done a job since where that was common.

And two pints between 12.30 and 1.30 isn't remotely going to trouble the scorers if driving home at 5pm.

Birkonian said...

In the 70s at my workplace it was normal to decamped to the pub for Birthdays and occasionally for no other reason than fancying a pint or two. A few (or more) beers after work was not uncommon either. Both have disappeared now.

The exception seems to be London. It may be that some workplaces have a preponderance of young singles with disposable incomes or that central London is more attractive than suburbia at the end of the commute home. Any thoughts?

Curmudgeon said...

In central London, very few of the workers will be driving home and so will feel more at liberty to have a pint or two after work. I get the impression that's always been a London habit.

The same is true to a lesser extent in the centres of other big cities such as Manchester, but not really anywhere else where most people commute by car.

Paul Bailey said...

The after work pint (or three), is definitely a London thing and apart from the social side, it may have something to do with waiting until the trains home are a little less crowded. It obviously depends on ones situation and domestic arrangements, but many commuters will still have to drive home from the station, when they reach their final destination. Some, of course, will have understanding partners/spouses, who will pick them up when they pour off the train (excuse the pun!), and some may cycle home (not recommended after several pints!).

I worked in London, at the start of my career, but I was living there as well. I still faced a short commute home (Underground and Overground), but was never really in the habit of having a pint after work with colleagues. There was a social club on the site where I worked, but the beer was shite (I was fussy about beer, even in those days). I also didn’t care much for playing pool, or the slot machines; activities which seemed to be the main draw of the club for many of my colleagues.

It’s one thing having the occasional drink with work colleagues, just to be sociable, but you see enough of them during the course of the working day so as to not want to spend much time with them afterwards! As for forced “team bonding” activities – count me out straight away!