Free Beer at Work: A Perk or a Right?
It's no secret that workers have been losing perks and benefits hand over fist in the past few years. As companies have sought to bring costs into line with reduced revenues, corporate niceties were among the first things to go in many places—a category wide enough to include everything from how close you get to sit to the front of the plane on business trips to the availability (or affordability) of employee health plans. And, with unemployment levels remaining stubbornly high, companies are in a position where they don't need to work nearly as hard to attract or retain employees.
But that doesn’t mean workers are taking their diminished perks lying down. Take the employees of Danish brewer Carlsberg, for example. When the company tried to take away a long-held perk in 2010, workers went out on strike, halting production at the company’s largest facility. Nothing particularly remarkable there, except that the perk in question was the right to drink the company's product while they're at work.
Bear in mind: we're not talking desk jockeys, or people with back-office functions here. The culture the company was trying to change allowed everyone at the firm—from forklift operators in the warehouse to truck drivers—unlimited access to beer during their workday. And that's in addition to receiving two free cases of Carlsberg to take home every month.
On the face of it, the Carlsberg decision made sense from every single business perspective: the company is losing less productivity, cutting down on the potential for workplace accidents, and keeping more of its product to sell to actual customers—all desirable things to any business owner.
But however sensible the reasons may be, the story raises the question of what we lose when corporate culture clashes with the rights and traditions of workers. Prior to the decision—which limited workers to between one and three pints per day, depending on their position--Carlsberg employees had been able to set their own consumption limits at work for a century.
While we're clearly living in a different age from when the first Carlsberg brewery was founded, there's still something sad about corporate governance trumping tradition—not least because it represents a breakdown of trust between employer and employee.
Where should the line be? Should companies have the right to offer and rescind perks and benefits as and when they choose? Or should concepts like loyalty and tradition play a role too; should some perks—like the ability to consume a little of what you help to create—be sacrosanct?