Work socials need to be more inclusive of those who don't drink

Over 30% of employees avoid social events because they involve alcohol

While inclusivity in the workplace is high on the agenda, the fact that 34% of employees avoid work socials because alcohol will be present, suggests that more needs to be done to help those of us choosing not to drink to feel more comfortable and as though we ‘fit in’ at work.

Addressing alcohol in the workplace needs to extend beyond accidents, hangovers and financial impact. Employers need to ensure that workplace social events such as celebrations of success, leaving parties or team away days, do not exclude an important group of people because they revolve around booze.

Should HRDs call time on workplace booze culture?

Workplace social events should be accessible to everyone, and align to the modern-day workplace commitment to diversity and inclusion. There are many reasons why people do not drink, from struggles with alcohol, religious beliefs, health issues, pregnancy or simply personal choice. Those employees should not face having to choose between attending an event they do not feel comfortable at, or missing out on relaxing and networking with their colleagues.

For some organisations, this requires a shift in culture. This must come from the top down. Leaders have a crucial role to play here, and they need to lead by example by making a conscious effort to create inclusive social environments by organising alcohol-free work events, or work events where boozy get togethers are no longer the norm. This helps to set a precedent that will resonate through the organisation, not only promoting employee wellbeing but ensuring that no one is left feeling excluded and isolated from choosing not to drink alcohol.

When leaders actively take a stance and prioritise every employee’s wellbeing, it sets a tone, and sends a powerful message throughout the organisation that everyone's is valued and respected. And it is not difficult to do, it just requires a little thought and planning. Some ideas to consider might be:

  • Organising social events that do not include alcohol, such as escape rooms, outdoor activities, games nights, scavenger hunts or even volunteering. Events where the emphasis is on camaraderie, working as a team and sharing an experience, rather than just drinking alcohol.
  • If the event will involve alcohol, offer drinks vouchers rather than putting on a free bar. That way, people are not at risk of drinking more than they would like.
  • Ensure there are plenty of alcohol-free drinks available. There are so many delicious alternatives now, including mocktails, so there is no excuse for simply offering unimaginative substitutes such as sparkling water and orange juice to people who don’t drink.

And ask your employees what they want. Employers should be actively involving their staff in decisions about social events and asking for their feedback. And consider doing this anonymously, because the stigma around alcohol means that some people may be reluctant to put their name to their honest comments on corporate events.

Employees feel pressured by co-workers to drink

Through proper leadership, open communication and thoughtful planning, organisations can ensure that their social events are inclusive, enjoyable and meaningful for all of their staff, regardless of whether or not they drink alcohol. However, if leaders and employers fail to address the fact that over 30% of employees are avoiding their social events because of alcohol, they risk potentially alienating valuable team members and inadvertently excluding a significant chunk of their workforce from socialising with their colleagues.

A fifth blame employers for excessive drinking

With Alcohol Awareness Week coming up, from 1 to 7 July 2024, it’s the perfect opportunity to get your employees thinking about their drinking. This can really help to reduce stigma and open up conversations about the harm caused by alcohol in an accessible, non-preachy way.

By Susan Laurie, project manager and trainer for Alcohol Change UK