A work social gathering work is supposed to be a bonding experience that brings people together, but the inclusion of alcohol could make it the opposite. We all recognise the scene. The works Christmas, New Year’s bash or the annual barbecue happened on the previous weekend, and everyone had a little too much to drink. Monday morning rolls around, and someone must face their colleagues after having embarrassed themselves by dancing on a table. Everyone seems to have a laugh about it, and it soon apparently gets forgotten. However, for some people, these social events can be difficult at best, and at worst, they may be exclusive and even traumatic.

The works booze-up – it’s all in fun, right?

Well, perhaps for some but certainly not for all. The most immediate thought is the difficulty these events can create for those dealing with addiction issues. Alcohol concern estimates that there are in the region of 7.5 million people in the UK who could be considered to suffer from alcohol addiction. That is around 6.5% of the UK population. As this clearly demonstrates, alcohol misuse is a huge problem and one that is very likely to be a struggle for someone within many workplaces. Social events and the ‘go on have a drink’ culture that often accompanies them can be a minefield for those trying to avoid drinking. The anxiety around the choice of not going and being considered anti-social or going and resisting the peer pressure to drink is considerable.

Many people choose not to drink for health or personal reasons, and a further consideration is that for some members of a diverse team, alcohol may be inappropriate or conflict with a religious or cultural belief. While it is easy to take the easy option of adopting a ‘well then don’t drink’ approach, the truth is that an alcohol centric celebration is going to be a difficult situation. This can easily step over into potential exclusion.

Alcohol is also a root cause of unpleasant and even traumatic events. Our initial ‘fun’ scenario about the embarrassed person could well be a very different one if it escalated due to alcohol. The step from dancing on the table to sexual misconduct, aggressive behaviour and violence is often a small one. I am sure we have all seen these kinds of situations and witnessed the damage they can cause.

If the purpose of the work-based social is indeed to promote inclusivity within the team, then basing them around something that is potentially divisive seems counterintuitive, to say the least. Perhaps it is time to re-think the relationship between alcohol and the workplace.

Time to re-think drinking culture?

In recent months, there have been several very public examples of how endemic the drinking culture is in many industries. The pressure to take part in after-work drinks, binges on business trips and excessive ‘entertaining’ of clients is very much a discussion topic. Behaviour that has previously been considered ‘laddish’ or perhaps just the way things are done is now being re-examined. Questions are being raised about whether it is potentially creating a scenario where non-drinkers, and those with reasons not to drink, are being excluded. If so, then it is not about individual incidents of drunkenness; it is a wider question of inclusivity and exclusion. That is real food for thought. The concern is that promoting alcohol centric behaviour could be considered to be favouring particular employees and helping exclude talented and capable people from progression.

Many businesses have recently been asking the questions around whether we really need to have a drinking culture that results in anxiety in some employees and potentially facilitates an unhealthy lifestyle. Add to this the question of whether alcohol-based socials are a cause of unwanted exclusion, and that amusing incident where Bill from accounts did something silly at the Christmas bash suddenly seems a lot less funny.

Stuck for Ideas for an Alternative?

Here are some great suggestions for alternatives when getting the team together. Why not try one of these instead:

  1. A meal out with the team
  2. Themed Cookery classes
  3. Craft workshops
  4. Chocolate makers workshops
  5. Karaoke
  6. Crazy/Mini golf
  7. Escape rooms
  8. Festive exhibitions, such as light displays
  9. Murder mystery events
  10. Festive afternoon teas