Alcohol manages to seep into most aspects of our lives. It trickles into our home life, dampens our relationships, envelops our social occasions and it even soaks into our jobs. It’s hard to avoid. When we give up drinking, we notice alcohol everywhere. It follows us around like a bad smell, lined up on shelves, lit up on billboards and sipped in every TV show. It’s there, reminding us, triggering us and trying to pull us back in. Its annoying to say the least.
It is so deeply ingrained into society, culture and work, that us non-drinkers feel like we are fighting a losing battle.... and now, since the pandemic, many people work from home. It's no longer the influence of others, twisting our elbows into getting another round in, its ourselves choosing to drink because that's what we've always done after work. A slippery slope into the open arms of addiction.
So is it possible to change this toxic work/booze culture?
Its a hard one. Every job I've ever had has involved drinking, there were office after work tipples, all day benders with colleagues at the weekends and regrettable twerking at Christmas parties… I never once turned down the offer of a few pints at lunch break, for me drinking in and out of the workplace was practically part of the contract. It was how I connected, how I networked and how I relaxed after a long day. (And often why I got sacked).
The impact on alcohol has on ‘work fitness’ is massive, whether we are drinking after work, during work hours or trying to function with a huge hangover, the fallout is immeasurable.
We get anxiety, can’t concentrate, dont show up, do sickies, lose clients, let people down and are generally in a poor state of mind. But yet, workplaces blatantly push the use of alcohol, creating a culture that is destructive and counterproductive.
I must say here, there is a little part of me wonders if it was just me? – Was I bringing this toxic culture to work in my little leather brief case or was it lurking there already? Probably a mixture of both, my drinking was able to carry on in work and out of it because it was so accepted as part of the scene.
Anyway, since getting sober I’ve realised there are ways of making all work environments more alcohol-free friendly. It doesn’t have to be part of the culture if we don’t allow it to be. Supporting those that don’t drink and creating a workspace that doesn’t make you feel like you have to drink to be part of the team will have long term side effects that promotes brain function, job satisfaction and a higher productivity. An all round win!
So, as employers or employees, what can you do to create a healthier work environment?
1. Change The Vocab - Turn ‘after works drinks’ events into ‘Networking opportunities. If you change the vocabulary around post work social events you can instantly change the mindset of those attending. Sober people would feel so much more accepted if the word ‘Drinks’ was off the menu.
2. Mix It Up – Include healthy endeavors to the work calendar. Sponsored walks, picnics, family get-togethers, games nights, painting classes or a silent disco. Something that might be a little out of the comfort zone but still promotes interaction or conversation. Work functions don’t have to be about Karaoke and shots. Try something new. Starting a tradition of meeting in the park instead of the pub is a great start.
3. Alc-Free Alternatives - Make sure your employers supply good alcohol-free options at functions. Gather information about different drinks and mocktails and send it to the event organizer, perhaps find out how many people don’t drink so they have an idea how many they need to cater for …..or if you’re feeling really brave, demand they have a totally alcohol-free event.
4. Water, Food (lots of tea and coffee) - Make sure all events provide food and lots of water. Doing this will take the focus away from booze. If people are nervous or feel socially uncomfortable having other options to sip or nibble will help. If alcohol is the only option people will happily drown out their social anxiety with booze and that never ends well.
5. Be a Role Model – Lead from the top. If you are in a high position at work and have a team of people that work with you then be the good example. If you are not drinking, then others won’t feel like they have to. If workplaces really want to see this change in their culture, those in leadership positions need to walk the walk and talk the talk and not drink the drink!
6. Stop making booze the prize – There is a tradition of handing out bottles of wine as a gift or a prize at work. Try to break this ritual and giving massage vouchers or a bunch of flowers. Much healthier. Breaking customs that have been around forever might seem a little far-fetched but little thought has gone into buying a shitty bottle of cheap wine. Give something more personal. (Preferably that isn’t a ‘Class A Carcinogen’)
7. Promote Wellness – Your work should be a healthy place, somewhere you can excel and give your best self. To ensure this you or your employer can instate a drug and alcohol policy. This puts rules in place letting the staff know that drinking at work or at work related events will not be acceptable. This can be part of the contract signed by you and your staff when they take a position with your company. This is a great message to show it won’t be tolerated and communicates that alcohol is not part of the jobs culture.
8. Education and training – Knowledge is everything. If you are the one sober person in your workplace and feel confident within your sobriety the best way to educate others is just by talking about it. Being open and honest about the impact alcohol has had on your life and on your ‘work fitness’ will inspire others to change. Your authentic conversations around booze will create a more empathic working environment. Some workplaces invite motivational speakers to educate their staff. Perhaps try to get someone that can mentor your colleagues on the effects of alcohol consumption.
9. Challenge the Institution – Wherever you work there may be a drinking culture so ingrained it feels like a solid wall that’s impossible to break down…. See this as an opportunity. A way to make you mark. Talk to the people in charge, tell them how their business will soar if the workforce is healthier and less reliant on booze to deal with stress or a busy week. Get the stats and facts together (non-drinkers brain function is double that of a drinker, 2.5 million working days are lost annually due to drinking....
Alcohol is a depressant drug that can slow down the messages to and from the brain and body. Alcohol can affect your problem-solving skills, judgment, concentration, reaction times and coordination. Etc….) Challenge the habits of your colleagues and give people the opportunity to say no.
10. Be Strong – Being the only sober person is hard. What you’re doing goes against the flow and you feel like a salmon swimming upriver at every work get-together. But the good news is....things are changing. Attitudes are evolving. The world is more aware that alcohol and work are a toxic combo. Corporate business and small companies are beginning to grasp that getting staff wasted on a night out is counterproductive and will result in sickies and lack of motivation. So, try to see yourself as a trend setter rather than the boring one. You are leading the way in helping others understand that ordering a fizzy water is actually much cooler than getting a round of shots in and waking up with a clear head is so much better than a fuzzy one!
So, it’s in your hands. Instead of avoiding work functions since you ditched the bottle, try and get them to work for your sobriety. And if you work from home, its time to get back out there, break the habits that Coivid has dumped in your lap, get help and stop using booze to get through. You can lead the way, show your employees the benefits of having a work force that are not dying of hangovers. If you talk about sobriety at work and show others how much better, happier, and more functional you are, then there is a chance that together, we can change this toxic work/drink culture.