Why The Best Workplaces Have Beer

Maria Montessori reinvented the classroom in the same way Google reenvisioned employee culture. In both cases, these pioneers sought to create environments that foster creativity, innovation and collaboration.  

Montessori wrote, “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.” Her approach was to create a climate where students could discover their passions and talents with the help of well-trained guides.

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, summarized his perspective on workplace culture creation: “We are all constantly nudged by our environment and nudging those around us. Use that fact to make yourself and your teams happier and more productive.”

Creating cultures that make students or employees happy, calm and well-positioned to cultivate their finest work is a paradigm that has yielded success for generations of Montessori students and today’s Googlers alike. HR professionals and managers are eager to replicate practices that have earned Google Fortune Magazine’s top employer honors again in 2016, the seventh time the company has nabbed the top spot in the past ten years.

While the Montessori approach and the Google method don’t come down to environment alone, in both cases the underlying theory suggests environment matters. Creating spaces where students and employees feel comfortable, relaxed and enlightened leads to a joyful work experience in which productivity and engagement are achieved.

One way other companies are following Google’s lead and enhancing their environmental offerings for staff is by stocking beer fridges that employees are invited to visit at the end of their workdays. This gives staff members the chance to unwind together while still in their professional sphere.

Is the beer fridge a beneficial perk? Does it invite chaos for those who partake? Is it exclusionary for those who don’t?   

Integrating Work and Life

Increasingly, technology enables employees to work remotely as well as during non-standard hours. Millennials are key drivers of this. A 9-5 reality in their worldview often seems outdated and inefficient. This evolution can be beneficial, as it stands to help save employees from the psychological wear and tear of the old paradigm.  

Laura Vanderkam writes, “Increasingly, people are rejecting the notion of ‘work/life balance’ in favor of another metaphor: ‘Work/life integration.’”

Perhaps the beer fridge stands to become a part of this new integration, especially if workers are spending less time in the office. When they are on-site, rather than leaving for after work happy hours, coworkers can remain at the office and spend time together in their space. This stands to create a different feeling about work. Perhaps the beer fridge may offer a collegiate feeling that, in theory, may foster invention and collaboration. But this, of course, depends upon how individual employees feel about their workplaces, their colleagues and alcohol consumption.   

What about the Obvious Problems?  

Presumably, adults know how to regulate their own alcohol consumption, especially when they are at work. Companies that offer alcoholic beverages to staff members in the office need to enact verbal or written policies to ensure that the perk is not abused. But work-related events that include alcohol are hardly a new phenomenon. And most seasoned staff members have refined their own personal standards for what constitutes appropriate workplace alcohol use. Entry-level professionals may not yet possess these workplace mores, and instilling them likely needs to be emphasized as part of the onboarding process.  

This practice could be construed as exclusionary for those who don’t drink. It would seem that if the beer fridge is the only effort a company makes to enhance the environment for staff, then indeed it may seem exclusionary. But for many companies, there are other perks that give non-drinking staff members the same chance to commune with their colleagues–coffee machines, snacks, workout facilities, etc.

It’s not Really about the Beer

The point in all of these initiatives suggests that companies are angling to tap into the creative potential of employees and create cultures that enable them to do their best work. Regardless of the particular perks, it’s exciting that employers are aiming to provide environments that help employees function their best by making them feel comfortable, stimulated and valued.