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How to support sober workers and address our boozy work culture

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Cheerful male and female toasting champagne flutes during birthday celebration at home
Although alcohol does seem to be ingrained in UK work culture, research suggests more workers in the UK are cutting back. Photo: Getty

Alcohol is soaked into the fabric of British culture, with post-work drinks just another part of employment. Whether it’s team-building or trash-talking a bad boss, many people head to the pub after hours to let their hair down and relax after a long day.

With the rise of co-working spaces, regular beer on tap is advertised as a selling point. Some companies even designate a day of the week for an after-work happy hour, or offer employees drinks at their desks on a Friday afternoon. In some industries, drinking is simply standard practice for success - and suited city workers clutching lunchtime pints is a common sight on a weekday.

Although it may seem harmless, there are downsides to boozy workplaces. And research suggests more workers in the UK are cutting back on alcohol while at work.

A survey of 2,400 UK workers and 250 employers conducted in 2019 by TotalJobs found that over half (60%) of UK workers want employers to shake up the traditional work social.

The report signifies a shift in national attitudes towards alcohol, with two-thirds (65%) of those polled believing it’s now more socially acceptable to ‘drink more mindfully’ at work events. Three-quarters (78%) agree that their employers shouldn’t assume that all employees prefer to bond with colleagues over an alcoholic beverage, with a quarter saying they felt pressured to drink at work events to fit in.

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In addition, 48% of UK workers suggest there should be fewer professional events and incentives centred around alcohol. Two-fifths (42%) of those surveyed went so far as to consider rejecting a job offer from an employer with a boozy reputation. According to the study, the shift towards sobriety appears to be driven by concerns over mental and financial health.

Other surveys have led to similar findings. According to a poll of more than 2,000 adults by the charity Drinkaware, 43% of working adults who drink say there is too much pressure to drink when socialising with work colleagues. A third (33%) reported having been pressured by colleagues to drink more than they set out to, compared to 29% by family members and 26% by spouses or partners.

Alexandra Sydney, Totaljobs group marketing director, said the needs of British workers are changing and employers need to be mindful of this to avoid alienating non-drinkers.

“What we see is a desire for a fresh look at the range of perks and activities employers have on offer, with employees looking for options that will help complement their changing lifestyles,” she said.

“So, while many workers will still want to socialise over a drink, and non-drinkers may join them in doing so, this should not be treated as a catch-all solution to ensuring a positive company culture.”

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By developing a company culture where no employee feels they’re excluded from social events, employers can create an open and positive work culture. So how can employers cater for the needs of sober employees?

Provide non-alcoholic alternatives

The market has exploded with non-alcoholic alternatives, with no or low alcohol wines, craft beers and even spirits. Simply having them on offer - no questions asked - creates an inclusive environment for workers who are sober, or those who just don’t feel like having an alcoholic drink.

“Employers cannot fail to have noticed the rising number of non-drinkers or the shift towards alcohol-free choices in the marketplace,” said Don Shenker, director of the Alcohol Health Network.

“Where senior managers can make a difference, is in providing a wide variety of alcohol-free options and alternatives during corporate events and clear alcohol education and awareness, so that those who do drink are more aware of recommended healthy limits. This creates a healthier environment, where non-drinkers feel equally valued and welcome, and all staff benefit from a safer workplace.”

Organise events that don’t revolve around alcohol

Bar tabs are great, but some employees are bound to make more use of them than others. Offering alternatives, such as a free lunch, can make non-drinkers feel included and appreciated. There is also a growing number of bars and restaurants with extensive non-alcoholic drinks lists.

Take advantage of moments during the day when drinking is a no-no to get to know your co-workers in a more comfortable setting. Go on meeting walks or grab coffee with individual colleagues.

Employers could try organising activity-based events, but be wary of enforcing fun on people who want to head home after a day’s work. Not everyone wants to dedicate their evenings to work for a team-building exercise.

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