Sexual harassment, other liabilities causing companies to rethink alcohol policies
- More employers are rethinking their attitudes about drinking in the office given the role alcohol plays in sexual harassment and other risky behavior, according to a NizNik Behavioral Health study. Among 1,010 full-time employees working for employers that allow alcohol in-office or at sponsored events, 45% said their employer discourages drinking at all company activities. Holiday parties were the venues at which most drinking occurred, and workers in the legal field were most likely to report alcohol at holiday gatherings.
- Only 24% of respondents said alcohol was served at events designed to encourage bonding between employees. While 78% of respondents found drinking with general co-workers acceptable, with beer and wine reported as the most acceptable drinks, 60% saw supervisors as acceptable drinking partners. Although 35% of respondents preferred not to drink with colleagues, around 16% said they did so anyway. Nearly half of respondents said they think drinking with colleagues or supervisors strengthens relationships with those individuals.
- The most cited consequence of drinking at work events was revealing personal secrets to co-workers, followed by complaining about work-related issues to a boss or co-worker. Of respondents who found alcohol-free activities appealing, 30% would swap alcohol-related perks for other benefits including fitness training, sponsored lunches, massages and/or permission to bring their pets to work.
Some tech companies offer alcohol as a perk, but employees' access to beer or wine might be losing its appeal. The #MeToo movement made the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct at work front-page news. And with some misconduct associated with drinking, employers have second thoughts about holding an annual holiday party where serving alcohol is common. The 2018 Holiday Party Study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that only 65% of employers planned to throw a holiday party last year, one of the lowest rates since 2009.
Besides facing the risk of liability due to sexual misconduct and other negligent behavior, employers might find that employees consider offering alcohol as a perk a sign of a negative culture. Research from Oregon State University showed that recent college graduates consider culture when evaluating an employer and don't necessarily see alcohol as a desirable perk.
Salesforce banned alcohol from its workplace without damaging its brand. In fact, the company consistently makes the list of top places to work, which may lend support to the argument that alcohol isn't the most important perk for employees. Obviously, excessive use of alcohol can also lead to addiction and other possible side effects. Employers who do choose to keep their alcohol-friendly policies might need to reinforce good behaviors and moderation.