Like an atheist in the Vatican

funny-Jack-Daniels-water-dispenser-300x293There’s a fascinating Advertising Age feature that shines the spotlight on Brown-Forman’s new workplace policies.

If the company name doesn’t sound familiar, it should.

Brown-Forman is the Louisville-based distiller of Jack Daniels, and other major liquor brands.

So, what’s so novel about B-F’s new workplace program? It’s centered on making teetotaling employees feel included in the company’s social programs!

So, for example, while the average cafeteria menu in the company’s Bourbon Street Cafe includes Old Forrester marinated flank steak and a cocktail make from Woodford Reserve, Southern Comfort and orange and pineapple juices, there are also non-alcoholic beverages from which to choose (BTW, how could anyone possibly function after a lunch of flank steak and Jack?).

The teetotalers program is part of an overall Employee Resource Group diversity program that’s aimed at making various B-F work groups feel more at home. Those groups include:

- Boomers (Stop the presses! I’m finally a member of a minority!)
- LGBT
- Veterans
- Women
- Young professionals
- Non-drinkers

This is a noble cause for which B-F deserves a ton of credit. But, it also begs the question: Why would a teetotaler work for a liquor marketer in the first place? Talk about entering the belly of the beast. It’s akin to:

- An atheist working at the Vatican
- A Yankee fan selling cotton candy at Fenway Park
- Yours truly serving as Sir Martin Sorrell’s aide-de-camp

I’m all for inclusiveness and diversity in the workplace. But, I’m not sure I agree with the lemonade and ginger ale lunchtime options for non-drinkers at a liquor manufacturing company. That’s one toke over the line (to mix metaphors).

If the non-drinking cohort refuses to imbibe, I honestly think they should find employment elsewhere.

There are enlightened workplace cultures and then there’s Brown-Forman’s. In my mind, I’d simply let employees know they’re expected to consume their employer’s product. Period.

There are plenty of other employers in the greater Louisville area and I, for one, would want employees who use my product, and will feel comfortable serving as brand ambassadors in social situations. That’s tough to do when one refuses to even sip a Jack & Coke.

I don’t know about you. But, this is one example of political correctness gone very, very wrong.

Regardless of your feelings, though, let’s all raise our drinks and salute B-F for their other progressive efforts at diversity (especially the one earmarking Baby Boomers an important minority).

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Note: Repman will be spending the majority of next week attacking northern Maine’s rugged Mt. Katahdin and cliff climbing along Bar Harbor’s Otter Cliffs. In my absence, various colleagues will be contributing guest columns. And do post comments about their blogs. We’ve got some real beauts scheduled for your reading pleasure.  

20 thoughts on “Like an atheist in the Vatican

  1. Sorry, Rep, but I think you got this one all wrong. Stipulating that employees must drink is crazy. Following that theory, men should not work at a woman’s magazine, you cannot work in a vegetarian restaurant if you eat meat and veterinarians cannot be people, they must be animals.

  2. Sorry, but I disagree with your disagreement. How can one possibly have the passion necessary to promote and publicize a product if one refuses to even experience it? Makes no sense at all, and is so politically correct that I find it offensive.

  3. Rep, is that you, really? Suppose someone is a recovering alcoholic? hat if an employee gets pregnant? What if someone drinks beer and wine but not hard liquor? Should employees at cigarette manufacturers be required to smoke?

  4. Think about the modern business landscape, Danderoo. Every company is trying desperately to undercut and outflank the competition. As such, the more enlightened ones see employees as front-line brand ambassadors. So, it makes no sense whatsoever for the Vatican to hire atheists to represent their brand. Nor would it make sense for Richard Edelman to hire me to handle his firm’s marketing. In both instances, the brand ambassador in question would be anything but. Get it?

  5. Yes Rep of course I understand how critical it is that employees be brand ambassadors. I just think in this particular situation, given the nature of the product, it would be wrong (and could be illegal) to require that employees drink.

  6. And what happens when the day is done and it’s time to go home? Do they get behind the wheel? I realize the south is endemic to NASCAR but I can envision a major pileup on the roadways.

  7. I’d head that off at the pass, Dandy. Simply make it crystal clear in your recruiting and hiring that employees are expected to familiarize themselves with the product. Obviously anyone under the legal drinking age would be exempt.

  8. I¹ll have a shot of Jack with the best of them and I completely understand the issue of employees as ambassadors, but this is a free country. If someone chooses not to drink because they’re a recovering alcoholic or simply don’t like it, they still have a right to make a living and provide for their family. Not every worker has the skills and experience to simply decide on their own where they want to work. For many of the fine people sweeping the floors and lighting the fires to make charcoal, this is the only job they can get in this one-light, dry county of just over 6,000 people. And passion for your brand? I have plenty of passion to go around for all the brands I’ve worked on from beauty products to hair coloring to creams for vaginal yeast infections. I honestly couldn’t say I’ve used them all.

  9. Amen, Matt. And yes, Rep, I am an athiest but I can still say the word ‘amen’.

  10. As Matt pointed out, not everyone has the luxury to pick and chose where they work.

  11. Get real, Dandy. If I don’t want to work at McDonald’s, I can choose a health foods store instead. Ditto in this case. Workers can simply target their searches towards, say, Arizona Iced Tea or, god forbid, Coca-Cola. The jobs are there. People should follow their passions and work for a company whose product they respect.

  12. As a non-drinker, I welcome this employee engagement and think it’s a fine way for B-F to make its reputation shine. It’s saying that it values its employees as its most important asset, and will support them in their personal decisions. This will only help with recruitment and retention, and will make their brand more appealing to a wider array of consumers than if employees simply drink liquor during lunch or other corporate events. However, I do think there is something to your point about deciding not to work there if you don’t agree with the product. As a non-drinker, I would’t work for a liquor manufacturer. Similar to your point about working for the Vatican, we encounter this same issue in the national debate over employers covering contraceptives. If I really want that covered by my insurance provider, I probably shouldn’t work for Catholic Charities. It comes down to the same point – being empowered to make your own decision.

  13. Rep, I hope you meet a Sensibility Guru at the top of one of the mountains you climb next week. “Follow your passion” is great for people who have choices- but most of the world does not. Well actually they do…they can choose, for example, to feed their children or pay for healthcare.

  14. Well, I like working where I can publicly and vehemently disagree with the one who signs my paycheck. Everyone should be so lucky. And with that, I HAVE to stop this and finish proofing a proposal for Maggie:)

  15. As someone who enjoys a good shot of bourbon on occasion, I would say that, even at a spirits manufacturer, you probably want to set up an environment where people don’t feel the pressure to consume the product regularly, at the very least. Requiring drinking hard liquor for lunch, for instance, might be an option those who have tried the product or who really love the product want to take. And I do think issues like alcoholism, pregnancy, or other health concerns are important here, too. You could imagine many people who could be heavily enthusiastic about the company/brand/product but have personal reasons not to want to be in a culture where they have to consume it too heavily…

    So I think this could be a question of moderation, too. Would I find it strange for someone to work at a company and refuse to ever try the product? With a few exception, I would. On the other hand, some who aren’t major drinkers could be concerned that they are entering a culture where people are required to demonstrate their passion for the alcohol by drinking it at every turn.

  16. Sam: I believe you (and the Danderdoo, for that matter) misunderstood the original intent of my blog (as well as Brown Forman’s new policies). B-F is, in no way, forcing employees to drink their mixed spirits. On the contrary, they’ve created a crazy quilt diversity program that reaches out to various “minorities” (including teetotalers and Baby Boomers) to whom they intend to be especially sensitive. That said, B-F liqour can be found at every company function and in after-hour/holiday fests, etc. My point was this: would you work for the NRA if you didn’t pack heat? Would you represent Philip Morris if you didn’t chain smoke a few packs of cigarettes a day? A teetotaler working for Brown-Forman makes about as much sense as a White Supremist toiling for the NAACP. There are plenty of other jobs and life is too short. Work for a company whose product or service you’ve incorporated into your own lifestlyle (or one that represents such products). I, for one, have been inhaling Dippin’ Dots since our Brand Squared Squared division won their licensing work.

  17. Tongue in cheek, no doubt. It’s like saying a surgeon has to have his or her appendix removed, whether or not they need it removed, in order to be an effective surgeon. You’re mixing apples and oranges, or should I say, Jack and the workplace.

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