Previously, I wrote about how to use food to build teams, but what about alcohol? Can it be used the same way?
My answer is no. Alcohol can be used as a social element to bring teams together, but it cannot be used the same way that food can be used. Unlike food, alcohol consumption needs rules and doesn’t belong in every workspace.
Why Employers Don’t Use Alcohol to Build Teams
The vast majority of my employers have treated alcohol like a taboo consumable for various reasons, such as:
- Treating employees with beverages is expensive.
- Cultural/personal taboos, not all cultures/people think well of people that imbibe.
- Not everyone drinks, so people can feel left out, so if not everyone can have it, no one should.
- It can be a source of liablity.
- It impairs thinking.
When Employers Do Use Alcohol to Build Teams
On rare occasions, alcohol has shown up (for me) at:
- On-boarding congratulatory lunches.
- Retirement party dinners.
- Company sponsored holiday parties/dinners.
- Happy hours planned by co-workers, not management. (making it entirely separate from your organization).
When alcohol can’t be part of a person’s workday, it can still be utilized as a social building tool outside of the office on the employee’s own time (i.e., Happy Hours, or similar).
Happy Hours sound great, but the underlying problem with them is that they usually require socialization outside of office hours, which isn’t something many employees are willing to take advantage of due to other obligations. Also, not everyone drinks alcohol or thinks positively of others drinking, but everyone eats. This makes food during the workday a much more attainable form of a social bonding element for companies/teams.
A not so happy realization for many managers is that when they invite employees to a happy hour, or they come to a happy hour, the entire tab ends up becoming theirs. To mitigate the hit to your pocketbook and not look bad doing so, offer to buy “this round of drinks” and just accept it as a perk of your higher salary power. Buying a round of drinks, or even picking up the whole tab, will always endear you to your employees. And happy employees will make you a happier boss.
At the on-boarding lunches, having a drink was always awkward (for me) because… it is your first “social” event with your new boss. And because it is the entire sum of non-interview interactions they have had with you, it means that anything you do-or-say will leave a lasting impression.
Whether they know it or not, they are paying attention to:
- The drink you order. (Hard liquor, wine, mixed drink, etc.)
- How quickly you drink it.
- And your involuntary reactions to the alcohol in your system. (They are listening to things you wouldn’t say otherwise.)
This makes alcohol at on-boarding lunches stressful, but at the same time, I don’t know of anyone that has not at least appreciated the offer of a drink. At these lunches, it is typically best to follow the lead of the highest ranking employee present, and if they order a drink, and you choose to join them, choose an option similar to theirs. That said, the most socially conforming drink to order is probably a glass of wine or beer. If you decide to drink at this type of occasion, do yourself a favor and limit yourself to one.
Company Sponsored Holiday Parties & Dinners
External company events are scenarios where all the rules are flipped and most companies can successfully incorporate alcohol because they can treat it like food, a social element for bringing employees together.
Underlying reasons for why this works like food:
- Alcoholic beverages are readily present and available.
- There is no pressure to drink.
- Management is setting an example, saying it’s acceptable to drink.
What do you think?
Does your office use alcohol to bring your people together? How? What do you like or dislike about it?
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