We’ve all been there. A long hard week in the office, the clock seems to be ticking slower than it did at school, and all you can think about is that delicious glass of wine or pint of beer at the end of the day. Work drinks – or socials with colleagues – are almost as much part of work culture as Macbook laptops.
Whilst they certainly reduce stress and increase relationships, what do they do to productivity? With much of the new generation having a healthier relationship with alcohol, we’re going to be taking a look at the idea of work drinks, and analysing whether they’re actually worth it or not. Let’s dive in.
Gen Z: The Sober Generation
The world of work, which is now dominated by the newer generations, is an ever changing culture. Since Covid, it is now far more likely for those to work from home. And, for those who still come into the office, those places are now likely to be littered with coffee machines, oat milk and various healthy breakfast options. The health and wellbeing craze has certainly infiltrated worklife, especially if you live in the larger cities. But what does this mean for the much-loved, much-needed work drinks? Well, according to Statista:
“Only between 18 and 20 percent of Americans of legal drinking age and under 28 years old said they regularly drank beer, wine or spirits. Among Millennials who were born between 1980 and 1994, alcohol consumption was much higher – especially for beer and wine, at 31 and 30 percent, respectively, of respondents consuming the beverages regularly.”
There is no doubt that the younger generations are beginning to question the habitual relationship that many have with alcohol. But why is this?
Social media platforms – such as Twitter, TikTok and Instagram – are now being seen as a well-respected news and information outlet for many younger people. The days of newspapers and online news sites are gone, leaving only the endless stream of people’s timelines. Scroll after scroll delivers new pieces of news, insights, and engaging content. Whilst ‘doom scrolling’ has certainly become a phenomenon to be weary of, and social media addiction is certainly on the rise, it must be at least noted that this new generation have more access to information than any before them. And with great information, comes even greater knowledge. Young people understand their bodies, understand what makes them healthy and understand what makes them unhealthy. In fact, it is estimated that the wellness sector now has a global price tag of around 1.5 trillion dollars. Vocast writes:
“In a survey of approximately 7,500 consumers in 6 countries, 79% of the respondents stated that they believe that wellness is important, and 42% believe it to be a top priority.”
Not only do people now have more information, they also have started to care more. The trend of well-ness is on the rise, and with that comes a wondering look at sobriety. So, with this new frame of mine, where does that leave work drinks?
So what are ‘work drinks’? Well, they’re pretty self explanatory. They typically refer to a social gathering where colleagues from a workplace meet for drinks, often at a bar, pub, or restaurant, but sometimes also in more informal settings like someone’s home or a public space. Communal workspaces – such as We Works – offer beer taps in some of their locations, which allows workers to drink in the workspace once work is done. These events are intended to provide an opportunity for coworkers to socialize, network, and relax outside of the formal work environment.
It’s a chance for employees to interact with each other in a more relaxed setting. This can help build better relationships and understanding among colleagues, which can positively impact their collaboration at work. Getting to know someone in a solely work environment definitely limits the amount you know. People have different hats – their work hat and their social hat. Unlike formal work meetings or corporate events, work drinks are usually casual. The atmosphere is more relaxed and thus so are the people who attend. So, in this regard, there is an importance to work drinks. A chance to get to know people, which will not only boost your social experience at work, but also might be a nepotistic way to the top along your career path. Raconteur writes:
“Alcohol clearly has its uses in breaking the ice and fostering a sense of belonging. Yet, conversely, the desire to fit in the team and get ahead can also compel people to drink in corporate settings even when they know it will harm them in other ways. “If you didn’t do those things, you just weren’t party to half the conversations and didn’t understand the power dynamics,” says Paul* of his time working at a law firm in the City of London.”
As human beings, we understand the importance of socialising. In fact, it is essentially one of the main aspects of our nature that puts us above the rest of the animal kingdom. Not only do we enjoy feeling part of something, but it also gives us a higher social ranking. Which, as mentioned before, could be paramount for career improvement.
The pressure to attend social events after work, as well as drink alcohol, are obviously prevalent in the workplace. It’s like when you’re at school and everyone’s talking about what a great weekend they had, how funny it was, and all the memories they shared, but you didn’t go. Suddenly you feel isolated, un-fun, and lacking in social currency. Work drinks are a massive park of worklife and have been for decades. In addition, being the only person at a party who is not drinking can also feel a little uncomfortable. Especially when everyone is beginning to lose inhibitions, slur their words, say things they wouldn’t usually say – it can become hard to keep us. However, some believe the tides are changing. BBC News writes:
“According to a survey of 2,400 workers and 250 employees in the UK from Totaljobs, more than one in three workers see drinking with colleagues as outdated. The open 24/7 beer fridges, Friday drinks trolley and booze-fuelled socials don’t sit as well with workers, and may be becoming less ingrained in corporate culture.”
This is proof that there is a growing number of people who are beginning to see work drinks as an option, rather than an obligation. Work is for work, socialising is for socialising. They are two separate parts of life.
In addition, the Institute of Alcohol Studies did a survey of 3400 UK workers in 2019, and found that 9% had attended work hungover or drunk in the last 6 months. They found themselves to be 39% less productive. So what does this tell us that we don’t already know? It’s obvious to almost anyone that drinking alcohol reduces productivity the following days, and can also increase stress and anxiety. From a business perspective, work drinks may actually be having a detrimental effect on productivity. However, there’s also the bond that work drinks may enhance within the team dynamics, so it’s a bit of a hard call to make. Do you prioritise social relations? Or do you enhance productivity? A balance is probably ideal. Many businesses are now trying to make work drinks an option, rather than a necessity. This allows for those who don’t want to attend to not feel guilty about it. There’s also a growing number of sober curious folk who are going to work drinks, and not drinking alcohol. The aim here is to benefit from the social aspect of the events, without being burdened by the next day hangovers.
Work Drinks: Yay or Nay?
Work drinks are certainly a part of the culture of business, and have been for decades. It may take a long long time before that changes. However, there are positives and negatives to these events. Like most things, finding a balance is probably the most ideal option. In addition, it’s important to know that attending these drinks – without actually drinking alcohol – is also possible. It might seem like an isolating thought, but there will be other people out there doing the same thing, you just need to find them. A lot of people see work drinks as a chance to let loose, to take a break from the wellness craze, and this is also completely understandable. We can’t be thinking about our habits every second of every day, it can become exhausting. The crucial point is to find a balance that works for you.
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