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One-Third of Employees Don’t Want to Drink at Work Events—15% Drink Anyway

Even now, alcohol and work are heavily linked. New research shows that over one-third (35%) of employees do not want to drink. Sure, that’s a big chunk of employees, but they do not have to drink if they do not want to, right? Unfortunately, 15% of those who did not want to drink during work events drank anyway because they felt obligated. That’s 5 employees out of every 100 who drank when they did not want to, and that is a real problem.

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Employees who drink when they do not want to represent just one of many alcohol-related problems in the workplace, according to new research. The report Drinking in the Workplace was written by Niznik Behavioral Health and features over 1,000 respondents.

The Usual Suspects

Probably the most common side effects of alcohol in the workplace involve sexual activity and sexual harassment. We have published articles like this one warning of such dangers. Indeed, the report found that those issues still exist. Because of underreporting, we may never know the real extent of this problem. Nevertheless, over 8% of employees reported that they engaged in sexual activity with a coworker at work events that involved drinking. Another 2% said they had sexually harassed a coworker at such events.

Sexual activity while consuming alcohol on company grounds or at company-sponsored events represents the potential for major problems, from concerns about romantic entanglement between workers (subordinates and superiors, for example) to the very real potential for consent concerns. Because of this and other factors, alcohol at work events can be a legal powder keg.

Under Pressure: An Engagement Problem

I have already mentioned that of the 35% who did not want to drink at work events, 15% of them drank anyway. Even among those who preferred to drink at work, 27.8% felt pressured to drink when their coworkers drank. Among that same group, 44.7% felt they would be negatively judged for not showing up to events with alcohol served, and 20.1% said they felt pressured to drink if their boss was drinking.

Among those who do not prefer to drink at work, 22% made up a reason not to go to such events, 5% avoid going to work events with alcohol, and another 12% pretend to drink at work events.

Adding all these numbers together results in a lot of pressure to drink, as well as a lot of negative social energy. Between one-fifth and one-fourth of employees avoid work events, signifying a major problem with the alcohol culture present in many workplaces across many industries.

Work events are often heralded as great ways to improve employee engagement. However, if employees are not attending work events, then those efforts might be doing very little or are even damaging engagement among nondrinkers. Employees who feel uncomfortable attending, feel pressured to drink, or have to make up excuses to not attend are all likely to have engagement issues.

Drink to Succeed

The study examined what employees hope to gain from drinking at work events, and the results are very interesting.

48.5% of those who prefer to drink at work said they believed that drinking with their boss and coworkers improved those relationships. Another 23.8% among the same group said that drinking with their boss would lead to better job opportunities. The results are clear: Significant numbers of employees think that drinking will lead them to success.

Industry Plays a Role

The report found that certain industries had greater alcohol-related perks than others. The top five include technology; construction; marketing and advertising; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and information services and data processing. It would behoove HR professionals in these industries to revisit and/or form policies surrounding alcohol consumption at work events. Additionally, they might consider brushing up on an action plan for when an alcohol-related issue arises.

Final Thoughts

Clearly, alcohol comprises a significant portion of the work culture in the United States. How HR professionals frame alcohol-related perks and alcohol consumption at workplace events plays a big role in supporting or discouraging that culture.

For more results, check out the report here.