Would Removing Alcohol From the Workplace Improve Employee Well-Being?

Research shows that it could make a huge difference for your company's bottom line.

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The top HR trends reported for 2020 are employee engagement, eliminating sexual harassment, and nurturing employee mental health and work life balance, according to Smart Brief.  

The best way to be on top of these HR trends is to remove alcohol from your workplace.

Many companies use alcohol to attract and retain employees and to boost employee morale.

This is a losing strategy, and alcohol does not contribute to the desired outcomes. 

Alcohol negatively affects employee engagement.

Alcohol does not contribute to employee wellbeing.

Alcohol, even in small amounts, decreases employee physical and mental health.

Alcohol increases sexual harassment incidents.  

Employee Engagement and Alcohol

HR Advisor Daily reports ⅓ of the workforce does not want to drink at company events (NizNikBehavioral Health), yet SHRM reports 60% of company’s serve alcohol at the end of the year parties.

Where’s the disconnect? 

Adding alcohol actually takes away from employee engagement, resulting in an opposite outcome than what is desired. 

Alcohol at work increases sexual harassment, friction among workers, poor decisions, sick leave, tardiness, workers compensation, and damage to the business’s reputation.

None of these outcomes result in an increase employee morale which was the desired outcome of serving alcohol at company events. 

If you are serving alcohol at the end of the workday to unwind, or at company events with the intention to boost employee morale, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Companies across the nation spend anywhere between $33 billion and $68 billion annually due to employee alcohol abuse. This figure includes absenteeism, health complications, on-the-job injuries and other losses in productivity. When an employee is struggling with alcohol use, it not only affects the individual, but also those around them – supervisors, coworkers and project team members.

If you worry that not offering alcohol makes you a less competitive recruiter, don’t—a 2017 Namely survey found that U.S. workers valued benefits, time off, and other perks well ahead of company happy hours. You’ll find there are other generous, more creative perks that incur less liability but still boost employee engagement and employee experience.

30% of employees would swap alcohol-related perks for other benefits including fitness training, sponsored lunches, massages and/or permission to bring their pets to work.

Research from Oregon State University showed that recent college graduates consider culture when evaluating an employer and don’t necessarily see alcohol as a desirable perk.

While it is generally assumed that adults will act responsibly, especially in an employee setting, 18 states place liability on the host who serves the alcohol – which means your company.

In some cases it even illegal, to offer alcohol to individuals who drive or operate heavy machinery on the job. If you’re a federal contractor, note that the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 may bar you from having any alcohol in the office at all.

You’ll limit liability by not serving alcohol as well. If an intoxicated employee causes an accident after leaving a company happy hour, it may be the employer who is liable, as was found in a prominent court case in 2009.

The safest choice is not to offer alcohol at work related events. 

Alcohol and Sexual Harassment

Thanks to the  #MeToo movement, sexual misconduct at work, became front-page news. More often than not sexual misconduct at work is directly associated with drinking.

HR Drive shared a study reported in the Cornell Chronicle, that explores the link between the tolerance of workplace drinking and harassment of women. 

Researchers surveyed over 1,300 employees in a variety of fields. Findings showed that women were at greater risk of being harassed when drinking was tolerated in the workplace. 

Specifically, the study found a more-than-twofold increase in the incidence of gender harassment for every additional alcoholic drink consumed in the workplace during or around working hours.

The well-documented link between alcohol consumption and harassment has motivated some of the largest nationally known companies to act.

Google received attention when it changed its policies on alcohol after discovering alcohol played a role in 20% of its reported sexual-harassment cases. Google’s new alcohol policy states that excessive alcohol consumption is not permissible while at work or while attending a work-related event. The policy calls on company leaders to create environments where excessive alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged.

In another example, Salesforce banned alcohol from its workplace. This action received no damaging to its brand. In fact, the company consistently makes the list of top places to work, supportingthe argument that alcohol isn’t the most important perk for employees. 

The bottom line is, to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, the best course of action is to eliminate alcohol from work events as well.

Employee WellBeing and Alcohol 

Corporate trends are definitely moving in favor of employee wellbeing.

Wellbeing is defined as the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity. It includes having good mental health, high life satisfaction, and a sense of meaning or purpose. More generally, well-being is just feeling well.

Research recently published by Class Pass, reports “Seventy-five percent of professionals surveyed believe it is their employer’s responsibility to contribute to their health and wellbeing, ideally in part by providing wellness benefits to employees.”

There is a difference of opinion, however, between how employers and employees view health and wellness benefits. A study published by Aetna, found 70% of employers believe they provide reasonable access to health and wellness benefits, while only 23% of employees agree. 

The study found that 82% of workers across the globe are concerned that mental health issues could impact their ability to work. But only 25% of employees feel their organizations provide enough support for mental health conditions.

As the ClassPass findings show, employees believe their employers should positively contribute to their health and wellbeing. Eighty-eight percent of the survey’s respondents stated they would be more likely to recommend an employer who supports their wellbeing efforts.

Offering policies and programs to support employee wellbeing have a direct ROI for organizations. 

One topic often ignored when it comes to wellbeing is an employee’s relationship to alcohol. 

You can offer yoga everyday and serve as much celery juice as you wish, but if you are also having alcohol at every company event, this takes away from supporting your employee’s wellbeing. 

Alcohol has been proven to negatively affect mental and physical health. 

A new global study published in the Lancet, states no amount of alcohol is safe. 

I am not saying that everyone has to choose an alcohol free life, but I am saying its worth considering how your organization’s relationship to alcohol may be negatively affecting your employees. 

Employee’s who drink alcohol, take away from your organization’s finances, work productivity, and their own physical and mental health. 

This is true for every employee that chooses to drink. 

This is not reserved only for employee’s that you would label as an alcoholic, or a problem drinker. Even casual drinkers, cost the company lost money, productivity, and wellbeing. 

The Huffington Post reported about 20% of workers and managers across a wide range of industries and company sizes said a coworker’s on- or off-the-job drinking threatened their productivity and safety. Research also indicates that alcohol was a factor in at least 11% of all workplace-related deaths.

You don’t have to binge drink for alcohol to take its toll. It is a harsh reality that alcohol abuse can negatively impact wellbeing, mental and physical health, disrupt relationships, stall or destroy careers, and lead to financial ruin.

SHRM suggests limiting alcohol at work functions due to liability. 

The safest bet is to not offer alcohol at work events. 

If it sounds daunting change to your company drinking culture, you can ask for help. With the right leadership and resources, removing alcohol from work, positively benefits employees and increases the company bottom line.

Removing alcohol increases employee engagement, decreases sexual harassment, and improves employee wellbeing.

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