Companies serve alcoholic drinks at workplace events like holiday parties because they know a little buzz can make for happier employees.
But considering the country’s growing problem with alcohol addiction and young people’s “drinking to get drunk” mindset, should companies start rethinking this practice?
Australians and alcohol
There’s no denying that Australians love to drink. It is such an integral part of our culture that an Australian household spends an average of about $32 a week on alcohol, with wine and beer being the top choices. It even goes so far as to view turning down a drink to be “un-Australian” behaviour. It’s no wonder we do not even think twice about including alcohol on the menu during social events.
This love affair with drinking is so pervasive that alcohol is present in almost all social occasions and even seeps into the workplace. Companies hold parties and special functions to reward employees and alcohol is most certainly a given in these events. However, stories abound about office parties gone wrong and more often than not, alcohol is the culprit.
The risks of serving alcohol at workplace events
There are risks involved whenever there are alcoholic drinks at workplace events and parties. Alcohol relaxes a person’s inhibitions and an intoxicated employee might indulge in inappropriate behaviour as a result. Sexual harassment, violent behaviour and other inappropriate conduct by a drunk employee is not uncommon, especially when free-flowing drinks are being served.
Accidents and injuries may also occur as a result of drunkenness. This becomes especially dangerous when employees drive home from work functions while intoxicated. In these extreme scenarios, employers can be held liable as it is still their responsibility to ensure employee safety and health even in these events.
One case brought before the Australian Fair Work Commission was ruled in favour of the employee who argued that he was unfairly dismissed even when he committed wildly inappropriate acts while drunk during their office Christmas party. The commission held that the company was not in the position to insist on standards of conduct during that event because they provided free unlimited alcohol.
What employers can do to mitigate the risks
Companies who are concerned about their liability can always just impose a full ban on alcoholic drinks at workplace events, but considering the culture and our love of drink, this action will certainly be met with resistance.
You don’t need to be a killjoy in order to safeguard your employee’s health and safety. You can still give them a good time if you observe the following recommendations whenever you’re hosting company parties and functions:
- Include guidelines for alcohol consumption during workplace events and parties in your alcohol and drug policy to inform everyone on the need to manage their drinking and conduct.
- Limit drinks to beer and wine. Avoid serving liquor with high alcohol content or even punch and fruity cocktails, as those make it hard for people to assess how much alcohol they’ve actually consumed.
- Use drink stubs to monitor and regulate the amount of alcohol being consumed by your employees. Resist the temptation to provide free-flowing drinks.
- Serve food and serve them first. Drinking on an empty stomach accelerates intoxication. Also make sure that there is plenty of water to drink and balance the alcohol.
- Hire waitstaff and bartenders to serve the drinks, never your own employees. Instruct them to stop giving drinks those who are visibly inebriated.
- Arrange transport for your employees when your event goes on until the late hours. This minimises the chance that an employee will be driving home drunk.
- Set an example. Those in leadership positions must take care to conduct themselves appropriately in order to set an example to employees.
When consumed in moderation, alcohol can really add to the fun and good times. But responsible employers must weigh the pros and the cons, and take the necessary steps to mitigate disasters that may arrive at the wake of a night of partying.