This Dry July, we’ve got some suggestions for employers who want to facilitate an alcohol-free workplace culture.
Free for July only! Download a Recovery Partners Alcohol and Prohibited Substances Policy from our webshop.
Whether it’s for personal reasons, taste preferences, health concerns or due to religious or cultural beliefs, you probably already have employees in your business who avoid alcohol. If you have a workplace like many others in Australia that celebrates most things with alcohol, you may have noticed these employees nursing soft drinks or quietly slipping out when everyone else starts to imbibe.
But, what are they really missing? Lots of people have stories of work Christmas party shenanigans, knock-off drinks and boozy staff dinners. Sometimes these stories are about camaraderie, about colleagues who have become friends and the pride people take in their work.
But, more often than not, they’re about people embarrassing themselves. They’re stories of professional mishaps, loose talk, bad ideas and behaviour that people can’t recall without cringing. So, why do we keep drinking in work situations?
The impacts of alcohol consumption
You may have already read about the impact of alcohol consumption on people’s work performance. So, you probably already know that workers drinking to excess comes at a substantial economic cost to Australian businesses, with billions of dollars lost in productivity and to absenteeism.
You probably already know that the negative mental and physical health effects of alcohol abuse and the catastrophic societal, daily and community impacts of it are innumerable.
There’s a general consensus that Australians have a problem with alcohol, and that it warrants further discussion. But, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether workplaces should be a part of this conversation or whether it’s an issue for families and individuals.
Workplaces can create change
Workplaces can definitely contribute to changing the culture that normalises and even celebrates drinking to excess, says Chi Ly, Recovery Partners’ General Manager of Safety in NSW and Victoria. ‘ The average Australian adult spends quite a bit of time at work, and it’s part of our identity and lifestyle. So, if we can change behaviours and attitudes around drinking in work contexts, these can go on to influence our lives outside work.’
But, limiting or eliminating alcohol at a workplace isn’t so much about targeting individuals as it is about changing the collective norm, Chi explains, and it certainly doesn’t mean employees aren’t allowed to blow off some steam. ‘Making a commitment to eliminating alcohol in work contexts doesn’t mean a business is cancelling fun for their employees. It means they’re trying to create opportunities for more inclusive, safer and less damaging ways of having fun. It’s an update to the way we celebrate, commemorate and engage with other people, and it’s about making sobriety the default position rather than the exception for these occasions.’
So, how does a workplace go about making this change?
Introduce a Drug and Alcohol Policy
When a workplace adopts an alcohol-free stance, it has to be more than just a rubber stamp, Chi says. ‘The best way to really facilitate change to an alcohol-free workplace culture is to enshrine it in policy. If you don’t already have a Drug & Alcohol Policy for your employees, that’s a good place to start. In your policy, you can lay out the guidelines for alcohol consumption and the consequences if they’re not adhered to. This way, there’s no grey areas and everyone understands the expectations from the outset.’
Role model from the top
If workplaces really want to see this change in their culture, those in leadership positions need to walk the walk and talk the talk, Chi says. When leaders show that they can enjoy themselves without alcohol, be comfortable socially, mark special occasions, network and conduct business, congratulate, commiserate and unwind with colleagues, all without alcohol, it speaks volumes.
Stop gifting alcohol
In some workplaces, alcohol is both a gift and a currency. It might be a slab of beer for the foreman on a work site when a job’s finished, some bubbles to celebrate a win or a bottle of spirits for a birthday or work anniversary. It might be an unofficial bonus, or an official acknowledgement of extra effort. But, gifting alcohol to employees inadvertently sanctions drinking and sends the message that alcohol is an appropriate reward for effort. Better to avoid it.
On occasions where alcohol would traditionally be served, offer alcohol-free alternatives to staff as a matter of course, suggests Chi. And, instead of having the work Christmas party in a bar, take the team bowling or find another activity that doesn’t involve alcohol. Swap Friday night drinks for Monday morning breakfast, and host dry functions in your industry. When businesses change their approach to these sorts of events and make sure that what’s on offer is still appealing, engaging and a treat for staff to participate in, long-term change becomes much more viable.
Ultimately, facilitating a workplace culture that limits or eliminates alcohol doesn’t have to be something imposed from above, says Chi. When a business is open about the efforts it’s making to create change for the better, this allows employees to understand the reasoning and hopefully join the push.
Education and training will help all levels of staff to invest and hold the line. It’s also a good idea to offer support to individuals who might be struggling in their relationship with alcohol, and support for all staff to pursue activities that cultivate good mental and physical health on their journey away from alcohol in work contexts.
If you’d like to facilitate an alcohol-free workplace culture for your business, Recovery Partners can help. We can advise on the education, training and wellbeing support services that will help you make this move towards a safer, healthier and more inclusive work culture.
Get in touch with us by calling 1300 647 789 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Set it in stone: Don’t forget to download your copy of the Recovery Partners Alcohol and Prohibited Substances Policy, free from our webshop during July only!
Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at www.workcover.nsw.au
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