WSC Network Research Highlight: Heavy Drinking with Clients

By: Keaton Fletcher

Heavy drinking (consumption of 5 or more standard alcoholic beverages in one sitting) with clients is a common occurrence, but can be problematic, both for employees as well as their employer. A study recently published in Human Relations by a team of researchers including Work Science Center Network Member, Mo Wang, and led by Songqi Liu, examined what leads to new employees engaging in heavy drinking with clients (HDC) and what the potential work-related outcomes might be. In a sample of 57 supervisors and 330 employees of the client-facing departments of two Chinese manufacturers, the authors found that newcomers were more likely to increase their HDC if their veteran peers reported engaging in higher levels of HDC. Veteran peer HDC influenced the newcomer’s drinking habits less, however, when veteran peers reported that they tried to help newcomers understand their new workplace. Similarly, veteran peer HDC mattered less if the newcomer had previous experience in the field. Interestingly, as employees increased their HDC with clients over the period of three months, their supervisors reported higher levels of job performance after 6 months, but the newcomer reported more work-family conflict and were more likely to leave the organization after nine months.

This study suggests that without formal guidance from peers, newcomers, particularly those with limited experience in the field, are susceptible to adopting or increasing HDC behaviors which can damage their own health and their organization’s goals in the long run. It’s worth noting that, at least in this sample, supervisor guidance was not a significant buffer to the effects of peer HDC on newcomer HDC. The authors suggest this may be because in the short-term, HDC is actually beneficial for newcomer performance, so supervisors may face a double-bind: promote healthy behavior that benefits long-run performance or promote HDC that can improve performance in the short-term. Therefore, organizations should take steps to implement formal peer guidance programs if HDC is a potential risk for employees, to help newcomers learn how to protect their own health and well-being while still achieving organizational goals in the short term.

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