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Social Control and Workplace Drinking Norms: A Comparison of Two Organizational Cultures

Ames, Genevieve M.; Grube, Joel W.; and Moore, Roland S.

Journal of Studies on Alcohol, vol. 61, pgs. 203-219 (2000)

Objective: This article reports on an investigation of the relationship of social control mechanisms at work to drinking practices of 10,000 salaried and hourly employees working in the same U.S. industry, with the same union, but in two different work environments. One work environment reflected an organizational culture that is traditional to U.S. management; the other was based on a nontraditional Japanese transplant model.

Method: The research team used a combination of methods including in-home surveys (N = 1,723; 1,378 men) and ethnography (110 semistructured interviews and 200 hours of direct observation inside the plants). Respondents were asked about general and work-related drinking, perceptions of drinking norms, strengths or weaknesses of alcohol-related policies and procedures for policy enforcement.

Results: Although overall consumption rates in both populations were similar, significant differences between the two samples existed regarding work-related drinking. The Traditional (i.e., U.S.) model was associated with more permissive norms regarding drinking before or during work shifts (including breaks) and higher workplace drinking rates than the Transplant (i.e., Japanese) model. Analyses revealed that alcohol policies, and the extent to which policies are actually enforced, predicted drinking norms and alcohol availability at work. Drinking norms, in turn, predicted work-related drinking and accounted for differences in alcohol consumption between the two worksites. Analyses of ethnographic data provided descriptive understandings of aspects of the two organizational cultures that disabled mechanisms for social control of drinking in one setting and enabled those mechanisms in the other.

Conclusions: These understandings of how social control mechanisms predict work-related drinking practices provide guidelines for alcohol problem prevention in a specific kind of occupational environment. However, our identification of aspects of social control that successfully regulate workplace drinking is applicable to other kinds of occupational settings as well.