How workplaces can be inclusive for people who don’t drink alcohol

We all know how socialising can be a great opportunity for colleagues to build connections and bonds beyond workplace duties and roles. However in recent years, many workplace social events go hand in hand with drinking. As we know, alcohol can impact our mental health and some people choose not to drink or can’t drink – for a variety of reasons. How can workplaces be more mindful about alcohol?

The facts about alcohol and the workplace

  • People who work in corporate environments such as offices are more likely to drink alcohol.
  • People working in the private sector are 86% more likely to feel there is an expectation to drink alcohol at employer events, compared to the public sector.
  • Employees in the private sector are 2.5 times more likely to have alcohol subsidised at work social events than the public sector.
  • 30% of workers say they drink alcohol to relieve work-related stress.
  • People who work in cities are more likely to consume alcohol with colleagues than those who do not.

Where does the pressure to drink come from?

The reason why people drink alcohol at work-related events is complex. There might be different influences for different people, including:

  • Using alcohol as a release from stress and anxiety. Drinking alcohol might help someone to feel more relaxed and confident in a social situation with colleagues.
  • People might feel pressure from managers or other colleagues to drink, especially if managers buy rounds of drinks or provide free drinks at gatherings.
  • If a manager or a colleague has purchased a drink for you, someone might not want to look impolite by saying they don’t want it.
  • Some people might feel that “keeping up” with other people’s rates of drinking might gain them social “kudos” or respect.

What are the problems?

There can be problems related to drinking in workplace environments both for employers and for employees. Alcohol is a drug that can interfere with someone’s reactions, concentration and decision-making skills. This can impact how they perform at work. For colleagues, alcohol might impact their mental health. Alcohol can sometimes be used to mask or reduce symptoms of mental-ill health, which can lead to dependency and cause further mental health problems. Ultimately, lost productivity for workplaces due to alcohol use is estimated to cost the UK economy more than £7 billion each year.

  • 40% of employers mention alcohol as a significant cause of low productivity.
  • 25% of workers say that drugs or alcohol have affected them at work.
  • Between 3% and 5% of all work absence is caused by alcohol consumption.
  • 35% of people say they’ve noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol at work.
  •  23% of workers say they had experienced decreased productivity as a result of drinking.

Problems might also arise during or after work events where drinking is happening. As alcohol can change our behaviour, colleagues might feel anxious after social events, perhaps wondering if they said anything wrong or embarrassing or feeling ashamed about something they might have done under the influence of alcohol. For some people, alcohol can make them feel more agitated and aggressive, which could provoke an argument or altercation.

For people who don’t drink alcohol, they might also feel ‘left out’ of employer events and opportunities to socialise with colleagues. Many people who don’t drink are happy to be in environments with alcohol, however for some people who have experienced alcohol trauma or addiction, they might wish to avoid places like pubs and bars as they find them triggering. If a workplace only chooses these environments to host social gatherings, they could be excluding people who have experienced alcohol and mental health problems.

How to be more inclusive at work

It’s often the easiest and most convenient option to suggest ‘going down the pub.’ Other options might take more planning, but you might find you have a better opportunity to connect with other people doing a range of different activities aside from drinking. There are many different options you could consider including:

  • Source local cafes or bars that offer specific activities. ‘Board game cafes’ and ‘mini-golf bars’ are rising in popularity in many cities and towns and offer people an opportunity to do an activity that isn’t drinking.
  • If you are hosting an event at work for colleagues, ensure there are alcohol free options available and that these are offered alongside alcohol options.
  • Ask someone what drink they would like. Rather than assuming everyone is drinking alcohol when ordering another round, check what people would like to drink. This provides people an opportunity to limit how much they drink and say ‘no’ without seeming impolite if a drink has already been bought for them.
  • Check out specific team building courses or events. There are many companies that host team building activities that will get employees working together and connecting with one another.
  • Think outside the box. There are many activities you could consider; for example, you could try go-karting, laser-tag, paintball, escape rooms, golf and mini golf or murder mystery events. These are all examples of outings that don’t need to involve alcohol.
  • Ask colleagues what they would like to do! If you’re stuck for ideas on what to suggest as a social activity, why not ask your workplace for ideas, or have a vote. You might find the most popular choice isn’t actually going to the pub.
  • Do you have passionate colleagues who don’t drink at your workplace? You could form an internal staff network who could support the organisation of alternative social events and act as champions for information about mental health support.

The statistics in this article were sourced from Alcohol Change UK and Drinkaware. For more information about alcohol and alcohol harm, head to their websites.

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