The importance of having work social events has definitely risen in the last few years. With teams working remotely or in a hybrid arrangement, work social events are a good way to catch up. But how does a company manage their employee’s behaviour where alcohol is involved?
Are your work social events inclusive?
Whilst alcohol is often a ‘must-have’ at social events, it can easily become a difficult or exclusionary event for those who do not drink or cannot drink for medical reasons, religious reasons or any other reason. However, this does not go to say that alcohol should be prohibited from work social events, rather that the event should still be inclusive i.e. have you got non-alcoholic drinks alternatives or soft drinks? By including options, you are reducing the peer pressure environment. You may even want to consider a mixture of work social events; some with and some without alcohol! In turn, this is likely to help the wellbeing of all staff in that they all feel part of the workforce, and also ensure that, as a company, you’re not exclusively requiring alcohol consumption.
What if things get out of hand?
We are all familiar with the effects and consequences of alcohol but what happens when you have too much alcohol at a work event? It is a well-known fact that alcohol changes your behaviour and therefore exceeding the limit of alcohol may fuel this and cause unnecessary friction or embarrassment at work social events which is likely to continue into the work environment.
The underlying fact that needs to be considered is that work social events are an extension of the workplace and therefore employees should behave responsibly. It may be worth considering what can be done if things get out of hand in advance, and who will be responsible for ensuring matters are handled properly.
The Chartered Management Institute has circulated a warning to businesses that the amount of alcohol served at work social events should be limited, in order to prevent employees from acting inappropriately.
Employers should consider their obligations (i.e. duty of care, health and safety etc.) to their employees and therefore assess how their work social events should be altered to keep in mind their legal obligations.
A poll by the BBC found that 1 in 3 managers have reported that they have witnessed inappropriate behaviour or harassment at work parties. Both employers and employees need to be aware that alcohol intoxication is not a defence to discrimination/harassment claims, and both the company and individuals can be liable for these. It is worth reminding employees that such conduct will amount to disciplinary action and will be dealt with accordingly. This is particularly important where work social events are taking place on work premises.
However, where events are taking place away from work, you should remind staff that they are still representing the business and they should act responsibly and any conduct which is not tolerated at work, will not be tolerated at work social events. It is always better to set boundaries from the outset.
How can an employer balance the social expectations and their legal responsibility?
- Be clear about your expectations well before the event.
- Consider a drink limit policy or have alcohol tokens.
- Provide alternatives for those who cannot or do not want to consume alcohol.
- Ensure people have made arrangements to get home safely i.e. if others see or hear their colleagues talk about driving whilst they are under the influence of alcohol, who should they raise it to?
Of course, there is no need to make work social events boring, it may be worth consulting your team and allowing your team to have a say in the arranging of work social events. Pair this with training on unacceptable behavior in the workplace to ensure everyone is on the same page. Also consider reviewing the drug and alcohol policy to ensure it is all up to date (or consider implementing one if you don’t have one already). All these steps will help your work social events be the talk of the town, for the right reasons!
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