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Tips For The Traveling Executive: Dealing With Alcohol on Business Trips
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Tips For The Traveling Executive: Dealing With Alcohol on Business Trips - Executive Leadership Articles

Tips For The Traveling Executive: Dealing With Alcohol on Business Trips

Executive Leadership Articles

Tips For The Traveling Executive: Dealing With Alcohol on Business Trips

An estimated 1 in 4 people participate in binge-drinking when traveling for business. This means at least five drinks in two hours for men, or four drinks in two hours for women. The number is probably not surprising, given the combination of unbooked free time in the evenings (a rarity for many people with families), increased interaction in a business culture that encourages social drinking as a relaxed atmosphere for talking shop, and the tendency of some to let loose when they’re in a strange town where nobody recognizes them.

We offer no judgment when it comes to drinking on business trips, but attitudes about alcohol have changed—in the business world and in society in general—and it’s a topic worth talking about with your away team before anyone gets on a plane. There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to have a drink while sitting at your desk in the office, but those times are largely gone, and a certain sensitivity is called for.

There’s something to be said for culture and tradition. The business deal over a three-martini lunch is a romanticized piece of our culture, after all, and when you’re on the road and your host suggests drinks after a long day’s endless meetings, it’s tough to say no. For most of us, there may be no reason at all to say no anyway, but we often find ourselves walking a line between drinking for pleasure and drinking out of obligation. As we’ve all told our kids, peer pressure is a bad reason to do anything, yet we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of going along with the crowd or being thought of as all-work-no-play.

In some cultures, it’s nearly impossible to do business without binge drinking according to the definition we’re quoted, which comes from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. There are a lot of jokes about business drinking in Korea, many of them exaggerated but most of them not far off the mark. Some of this is changing, with heads of companies taking a more understanding stance when associates choose to socialize without drinking, but be aware that in these cultures, drinking is often assumed.

For introverts with no qualms about having a drink or two, it takes some social bookkeeping to maintain the balance of being part of the group while also reserving much-needed personal time. One approach is to be in on drinking during company time while politely bowing out of social get-togethers during what’s considered time off from work. On the other hand, some people think there’s no such thing as personal time when on a business trip, so some of this also comes down to company culture. What’s really expected of you when traveling as a representative of your organization? Another approach is to join in socially once at the beginning of a trip and again near the end, so when you graciously opt for a quiet night in your hotel room, people won’t think of you as a stick in the mud.

For many of us, it’s not “too much” alcohol that’s the problem, but any amount of alcohol at all. Thankfully, we live in a time more sensitive to recovering alcoholics, but the landscape is still scattered with all kinds of traps for those in recovery. We won’t presume to tell you what would work best for you, since every story is unique, but some people plan their travel ahead of time so they know where they can reach out for support in the visited city. Pregnant women face similar challenges, but at least the simple explanation (not that an explanation should ever be expected) that one is pregnant is enough to keep the pressure off.

The bottom line: no person should be pressured to drink by anyone, under any circumstances, including a business trip. You are not wrong to assert your right not to drink, or to expect that even the most old-school, demanding client will respect it. Make no apologies for not drinking, but make an effort to show that your competence and clear-headedness are far more valuable than any chummy bonding that might come from a few shots of whiskey you do not want.


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Tips For The Traveling Executive: Dealing With Alcohol on Business Trips - Executive Leadership Articles

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