Bonding with your colleagues is important, but alcohol is not a necessary component of building a strong team. By breaking down a workplace drinking culture, you open yourself up to the alcohol-free possibilities.
Office drinking had its heyday in the male-dominated work cultures of the 1950s and 60s. This was the Mad Men era, filled with marathon business lunches where clients would be wined and dined, and three Martinis were the norm. For the buttoned up corporate cultures of the 1980s and 90s, office drinking was strictly taboo, often perceived as a lack of discipline or sign of a troubled life at home. But boozing in the office creeped back into fashion, thanks in part to the cultural influence of Silicon Valley, with the emphasis on “fun” and a shift towards people working incredibly long days.
Six ways to create a healthier, alcohol-free workplace:
- Establish healthy norms
- Be especially mindful of inadvertently pressuring others to drink, especially newcomers
- Plan alcohol-free social events
- Put boundaries on the beer fridge
- Create a culture of empathy and consideration
- Challenge yourself to a workplace alcohol-free month
Boozing with the boss
According to recent statistics, one in five UK employees will attend after-work drinks with colleagues at least once a month, especially on a Friday night. Eleven percent of them would stay at the bar until the end of the night if it meant spending one-on-one time with their boss, and two thirds will head out for drinks with colleagues as a coping mechanism after a particularly stressful day. But while socialising with co-workers can help forge stronger relationships in the office, as soon as we start equating out-of-hours networking with getting ahead, problems can arise.
The alcohol-free movement
Additionally, there is a growing trend of people deciding to take a break from alcohol, or going completely alcohol-free, leading to a 58% increase in alcohol-free beer sales within the last year. This is especially true for millennials who make up a large proportion of the UK workforce, who are more concerned about their health and wellbeing. Taking measures towards a healthier office drinking culture is becoming increasingly important to ensure a comfortable working environment, and to eliminate any requirements to shmooze the boss over a bottle of wine to secure career success.
Here are six simple changes that can be put into place:
Establish healthy norms
Employees having a healthy relationship with alcohol is beneficial for an organisation, so it is within the best interests of the business to promote this to their workforce. It’s important to communicate approval for maintaining healthy drinking levels or advocating for the freedom to stay alcohol-free. The most basic step towards this is have rules in place about alcohol consumption during work time. The Friday night pub trip could be replaced with a de-stressing yoga class, the beer fridge could offer non-alcoholic beer and employees could be offered information about the impact of alcohol on physical and mental health. It is also important for those in leadership roles to lead by example. Employees will look to management for indicators on how to behave in the workplace, so show them how it's done!
Be especially mindful of inadvertently pressuring others, especially newcomers
Inviting a new employee for a drink their first few weeks on the job may seem like a benign, welcoming move, but for those who choose to be alcohol-free it may cause them to feel the beer pressure. It can inadvertently influence them to consume alcohol to fit in, or avoid offending those they wish to impress or bond with. This could create a lasting and harmful impression that their job performance is tied to their willingness to drink. Put a pause on suggesting they join you at happy hour until they’ve found their footing.
Plan alcohol-free social events
Employees who don’t drink should not be made to feel ostracised or uncomfortable attending social or work events. Many people abstaining from alcohol are perfectly happy attending events where alcohol is present, they just choose not to join in on the drinking. To ensure the entire spectrum of your employees have the chance to socialise comfortably, sprinkle in a few social events without booze, or ensure there are plenty of alcohol-free alternatives to choose from. The benefit of this is that the bonding and memories formed when alcohol-free usually last a lot longer than the blurred antics of Friday night drinks.
Put boundaries on the beer fridge
Trends regarding alcohol availability in the office come and go, with a number of articles published about companies that offer alcohol to their employees in the workplace, and then those who remove it. If your office is choosing to stock up on alcohol, make sure to be mindful of those who are trying to abstain. Include some soft drink options for them, in the same way as you would cater for the vegetarians in the office when ordering food. It is also a good idea to communicate when it is appropriate to make use of this beer fridge, i.e. when the working day is over.
Empathy and consideration
A little empathy and consideration can make a world of a difference to someone who is trying to go alcohol-free. If you’re planning after work drinks, choose a bar where there’s an activity to do other than drinking, like table football or pool. If you notice someone abstaining, try not to ask any awkward questions about why they're not drinking or try to pressure them to join in, instead offer words of encouragement and support. In fact, be the one that rescues them if they are being pressurised by others.
As the alcohol-free movement gains momentum, more and more people are independently joining One Year No Beer looking for a community of like-minded people for support in going against societal drinking behaviour. Offering alcohol-free challenges through organisations like OYNB as part of a company's wellness program can show employees they have the option and support to transform their relationship with alcohol should they choose to. Whole teams or organisations can complete challenges together as an opportunity for team bonding.
So the next time Friday night rolls around, and the mention of hitting the pub after work arises – keep these simple changes at the forefront of your mind. They could make all the difference to creating a comfortable working environment and positive workplace experiences.