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Alcohol and Work: A Potentially Dangerous Combination

By Maurie Backman – Jan 30, 2019 at 7:04AM

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Alcohol has a presence in many companies and work events -- but whether that's wise is a different story.

For many folks, alcohol is a big part of entertaining. It's also a big part of office life. From parties to after-work cocktails, avoiding alcohol in a work setting is almost as tricky as avoiding it in a social one. And while many employees celebrate the presence of alcohol in their work lives, others find it inappropriate and uncomfortable, perhaps for religious or personal reasons they might prefer to keep private.

While there is something to be said for unwinding after a long day of work with a glass of wine, many companies are a little too quick to promote the consumption of alcohol. A good 45% of businesses today host parties at which alcohol is served, according to a report by Niznik Behavioral Health, while 12% sponsor company happy hours, and over 13% allow alcohol to be consumed during meetings with clients or customers.

Professionals sitting around with wine glasses.


The problem is that alcohol in the workplace can have a number of negative impacts. First, the obvious: Some folks become inebriated and put their colleagues in the uncomfortable and unenviable position of having to deal with that. Serving alcohol at work events also opens the door to a world of potential liability, from injury to sexual harassment to concerns about driving home afterward. So it might be time for companies to rethink their approach to alcohol on the job or at job-related functions. Otherwise, they stand to expose themselves to needless risk.

Alcohol and office life don't always mix

Companies that serve alcohol at work-related events risk alienating employees (or clients) who don't feel comfortable mixing business with that particular form of pleasure. In the aforementioned report, 35% of workers say they prefer not to drink at company events, while nearly 14% intentionally avoid work events where alcohol is served.

On the other hand, some folks are more than comfortable drinking in front of or with their managers and peers. In fact, 60% consider their bosses suitable drinking partners, and among those who drink at work functions, over 48% feel that doing so will help them improve their relationships with their colleagues or managers.

But while using alcohol as a bonding mechanism of sorts might seem like a good idea in theory, in can backfire in practice. In fact, more than 14% of employees have accidentally revealed secrets to colleagues after drinking at work events. Meanwhile, over 13% complained about work issues they otherwise would've kept bottled up, and more than 9% went overboard on the alcohol front and embarrassed themselves in the process.

The solution here isn't necessarily to ban alcohol from all work-related happenings. After all, many employees consider work-sponsored happy hours a major perk, and generally speaking, there's nothing wrong with having a single drink, or perhaps even two, at a business lunch or dinner. Rather, companies must acknowledge the drawbacks of integrating alcohol into their culture and take steps to encourage responsible behavior around it.

Furthermore, when companies observe that employees who drink subsequently engage in behavior that makes other workers uncomfortable, they should take it as a sign to make alcohol less available at sponsored events. At the same time, employees and managers alike should be educated on the importance of not pressuring others to drink -- especially in light of the fact that among those who do drink at work functions, more than 25% feel pressured to consume alcohol.

Alcohol is an indulgence many folks enjoy on a regular basis. But there's a time and a place for it, and perhaps work doesn't fall into that category. If your company is in the habit of making alcohol easily available to employees, you might rethink that practice, or at least revisit the manner in which it's carried out. After all, the last thing you want is a lawsuit on your hands because a little too much wine was served at a company dinner.

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