We’ve probably all got funny photos and amusing tales of drunken antics from over the years. We’ve also most likely all got memories of a workplace party where someone got a bit too tipsy and put on a show that may have brought on a bad case of ‘beer fear’ and made them question a few things the following morning…
But when you’re in a leadership position - and/or work within HR, - the role of alcohol at work events can, and should, be a cause for careful consideration.
When you arrange a team event - for Christmas, or at any time throughout the year - you want to be as generous as your budget will allow. And more often than not, that will come back at some stage to offering some decent food and drink to your hardworking team. It can be difficult to balance the fun ‘free bar’ vibe with the need to be measured and responsible.
Now, let me just clarify that I’m not anti-booze! I have worked in the experience sector for close to a decade and know that it’s possible to integrate alcohol responsibly and enjoyably into corporate events, team building activities and professional celebrations. I’ve had many a happy evening out with work colleagues over the years, where that familiar warm tipsy glow allowed us to relax, unwind, lower inhibitions and connect on a deeper level.
It’s just that I believe someone needs to be responsible for taking a helicopter view of the role that alcohol plays within work events.
On a personal level, I’ve always had an on-off relationship with alcohol. I have multiple chronic health conditions which have meant that for certain periods of my life, I’ve avoided alcohol completely and at other points, I’ve used it to numb the pain. I’ve never had a dependency or a particularly unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but I believe that’s because I’ve simply had to take a measured and proactive approach to how I use it, to protect my health. Aside from a couple of slightly self-destructive years in my late teens and early twenties, when I was spending a lot of time in the hospital and grappling with some major surgeries, I’ve been fairly sensible because I’ve had to be.
When I was younger, I had my fair share of enjoyable drunken nights out…but at work events, I have always had my ‘sensible switch’ in place and been very careful to err on the side of caution, in order to preserve my reputation and retain the respect of my team.
Over the years, when I’ve been abstaining from alcohol completely, I’ve been peer pressured, questioned and scrutinised for choosing not to drink. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve pretended to indulge, simply to stay out of scrutiny - I’ve thrown shots over my shoulder, poured drinks into flower pots and spoken to the bar staff in advance to ask them to replace any drinks heading my way with water…all to avoid feeling ‘different’, ‘weird’ and ‘singled out’ for not drinking. I’ve so often felt the need to justify my choices, explain my position or make self-deprecating comments to deflect the inevitable.
A Changing Outlook
It’s great to see that in more recent years, not drinking has become far more acceptable and the younger generations seem less alcohol-dependent than the 90s crew, of which I was an active member! There are also initiatives such as Dry January which encourage people to take time out, re-assess their relationship with booze and prioritise self-care.
Following a further diagnosis earlier this year (of another chronic auto-immune condition) I’ve decided never to let another drop pass my lips, not because I’ve been told to do this, but because I want to take preventative steps to give my poor old body the best chance of lasting as long as possible!
As I’ve drunk less and less over the years, I’ve noticed great benefits such as being in the moment when socialising, feeling present and alert, and then springing out of bed the next morning feeling smug and entirely regret-free.
Considerations For Your Workplace Christmas Party
At Fizzbox, we’re in the midst of our Christmas party booking season. We list experiences that involve alcohol, but we also consciously list many festive experiences with no mention of it - outdoor team activities, adrenaline events, and craft sessions to name but a few.
Whatever you end up booking for your own team, here are a few points to bear in mind when it comes to alcohol:
• Ask your team what they'd like their Christmas shindig to look like - they may surprise you and want to do something booze-free
• It’s possible to be generous without encouraging over-indulgence - providing two or three drinks per person can get people on the way to their preferred level of ‘merry’, without pushing the doubles and the shots
• Weave in light-hearted activities that aren’t reliant on alcohol consumption - quizzes, competitions and dance-offs have always been a great hit with our team!
• Take simple steps to factor in different cultures, religions, health requirements and sensitivities. For example, if you offer Prosecco on arrival, consider offering a sparkling elderflower drink in champagne flutes as your non-alcoholic option, so that people don't feel they have a sign on their forehead if they’re on the softies
• Do not assume that everyone within the team has a healthy relationship with alcohol. We have a trusting, open door policy in our business and hope that people would feel able to share with us if they were struggling, but addiction is often invisible
• Be inclusive. We give our team drinks tokens, so they can choose what they want to drink - rather than in the old days when there was free flowing wine on the tables but you had to make a public performance of asking for a fresh OJ
• Make sure you have a clear, transparent drugs & alcohol policy in place so that you can draw lines in the sand around what behaviour is ok, and what’s not
• Lead by example - it’s great for leadership to relax and enjoy with the team, but that sensible switch needs to kick in at the right time