Why your small business doesn’t need to rely on alcohol to create a social culture

alcohol

Odette Barry, owner of Odette & Co. Source: supplied.

Can you hear that? It’s the sound of another non-alcoholic can cracking open. Across Australia, sales of low and non-alcoholic drinks are exploding and every time you jump online, you’re confronted with yet another sobriety journey (guilty as charged). Before you call the fun police, organisations with less boozy work cultures find themselves more aligned with employees values and lifestyles, and in hot demand from media who want to learn more.  

I quit booze nine years ago. There was no rock bottom moment but a series of gradual realisations that drinking was taking more than it could ever give back. 

So long story short; I stopped. 

As a Sober Susan there are plenty of smug benefits to running a small business hangover free. I also confronted some harsh realities. There’s no denying that for most of us, a couple of savvy Bs can be a soothing social lubricant, easing us into an awkward networking event or your first get together with new colleagues.  

But the impact of a booze-soaked workforce is as clear as triple distilled vodka. Think absenteeism, workplace injuries, and accidents. Research says that one in 20 Australian workers have worked under the influence at some point while an approximate one third of the workforce has experienced the negative effects of a colleague’s alcohol use. 

I’ve spent more than 15 years working in the media so none of this is a surprise to me. Only last year two Mumbrella staffers tendered their resignation after they retired back to the publication’s head office to do cocaine after the Christmas party. I’m not here to judge; I understand the pressure of the media industry in my bones so I know how easy it is to feed into the work hard/play hard culture. 

If I was to hazard a reasonably well informed guess, Mumbrella-type incidents are common across all sorts of industries. As a result, businesses need to think about the partying culture they are endorsing, inadvertently or not, and provide necessary alternatives for their staff. 

Before you accuse me of coming for your voddy sodas, I’m confident this reset can be incorporated sympathetically into existing organisational cultures.  

For instance, occasionally swapping afterwork drinks for breakfast events provides an experience that doesn’t centre alcohol as the social mechanism. Or if it is going to be a boozy affair (after all, most don’t want to spend their Christmas party finding their way out of an escape room), respecting your sober staff enough to not only provide non-alcoholic options, but better ones. I’ve sipped my way through enough sad mocktails to last a lifetime to know that fun, fresh and fizzy alternatives exist. For anyone not sure where to start, organisations like Thrivalaist have sprung up with workplace workshops in support of a sober life, helping organisations create a culture of connection that isn’t powered by Pinot. 

Senior leadership may find themselves with little choice as change is spearheaded by gen Z colleagues. Not only do gen Z’ers display the highest levels of sobriety among all age groups (of drinking age), they also prefer to work with values-aligned employers and are more likely to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing. So it makes sense that this self-aware, sober-curious cohort is going to champion alternatives from their beer-swilling bosses. 

For all the managers and leaders out there. As a Dry-Lifer, avoiding the ‘us and them’ mentality between your drinking and non-drinking staff, and approaching the exercise with a compassionate, curious and inquisitive mind, will go a long way in forging a new path. And will mean a lot to a growing percentage of your employees.  

And who knows, it might also keep your business out of the press after a particularly wild Christmas party.

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