Booze-free socials: 5 ways for workplaces to celebrate without alcohol

21 December 2016 -


We’ve long abandoned liquid lunches; isn’t it time to rethink boozy employee socials?

Kirsten Samuel, guest blogger

Can workplaces ever get together socially without alcohol?

Maybe the answer is just no. Compulsory social events are as much a tradition of Christmas as indoor trees and fairy lights – and how many managers in the past few weeks have dared to suggest that this year's should be alcohol-free?

Managers looking to get teams together or schmooze clients at any time of the year make sure events are well lubricated. Booze acts as the social glue that brings people together and keeps them there. We seem to need alcohol to relax and for people to want to be in social situations at all.

Home Office research says alcohol costs employers around £1.7bn in sick days and hangovers each year. That’s just the obvious bit. We all know what alcohol can do to us – how it can become part of a vicious circle of stress, low moods, an inability to cope and greater reliance on an escape. It raises blood pressure, increases risks of heart disease, cancer, and mental health problems.

I’m not against alcohol – it delivers the feelgood factor for most people, most of the time. But we've managed to move on from the liquid lunches, and maybe it's time to re-think the socials:

1. Dig deeper into what team members actually want. The assumption is that it's alcohol. Or is it actually the opportunity to relax and have fun? Without being Puritanical, more people are thinking about their health than ever before, and not out of a sense of duty, but because it makes them feel good in similar kinds of ways that having a few drinks does.

2. Don’t make a big deal of ‘non-alcohol events'. At the end of the day it’s the same thing, a chance to bring the team together.

3. Put the effort into planning. The lack of planning means the easy option, and that always tends to be a convenient food and booze option. It doesn't have to be you who does the work. Get people on the case who like organising socials and they'll find something fun and local.

4. Think about the buzz. Lolling around at restaurant tables isn’t always that great, and there's lots of scope for the kind of activities where alcohol doesn’t mix: go-karting, bubble football, climbing walls; or the kinds of get-togethers which are around learning skills that don't have to be taken too seriously, like learning to play the ukulele, starting a pop-up orchestra, cooking classes. They don't have to rule out alcohol entirely, but it shifts the focus so that drinking isn't the means and ends of the socialising.

5. Start a trend. Get past the assumptions about what people need from an evening out by creating some level of consistency through a social committee with shared responsibility that's always thinking different.

People need a release valve from work pressures, and "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker", as Ogden Nash once said. It's all about breaking the focus on alcohol cycle, more variety, less lazy thinking.

Kirsten Samuel is CEO of employee wellbeing company Kamwell,

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