How to identify if your workplace has an unhealthy drinking culture

3 Minute Read

Every country has its own drinking guidelines. Canada publishes its own under the Canada Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking (LRAD) guidelines to inform what is acceptable drinking limits for low-risk alcohol use.

Socializing over alcohol is one of the most common social activities in Canada. As a legal drug, it has found its way into workplaces as well. A drink during a Friday meeting, drinks after work, happy hours, wine nights, Zoom cocktail classes have all become popular ways of keeping employees engaged within the firm. But, is your workplace contributing to a drinking culture that is unhealthy?

Here are some indicators that it may be so:

Having all company-wide celebrations center around alcohol

Companies celebrate closing of funding rounds, awards and achievements, employee birthdays, holidays, revenue milestones, promotions, and more. There is always something to celebrate, especially when it can also be a great vehicle to boost employee morale. Making alcohol the primary way for celebrations may promote an unhealthy drinking culture as not only does it affect employee health and it may alienate employees who do not drink. Peer pressure may also become a factor if employees feel obliged to drink to be representative of the company culture.

Normalizing drinking as a coping mechanism

A recent CBC article has named using drinking as a coping mechanism as the “wine-to-unwind culture” where people use alcohol as a reward to get through the day. Meme culture and social media contribute to normalizing drinking to unwind as a way to cope with every day stressors. Your employees are exposed to this culture daily. To add, Canadians had been consuming more alcohol during the pandemic which can be proven by the increase in retail sales data. According to Statistics Canada1, “Retail sales data also show an increase in alcohol sales for the 10-month period from April 2020 to January 2021. If this trend continues, sales for the year ending March 2021—the first full year of alcohol sales that reflect pandemic-related purchasing habits—will have increased significantly from the year before.” With stress, anxiety and depression on the rise due to the pandemic and now, post-pandemic life, if this culture is reinforced within your organization, it may be creating a perfect storm.

Effects of work stress and long hours

This is another angle on how your workplace culture may be affecting drinking. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, people who work long hours are likelier to have health problems including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking and impaired memory. This eventually hurts the organization’s bottom line as it starts causing absenteeism, turnover and rising health insurance costs. There is no evidence that alcohol consumption causes all of this on its own, but it is important to remember that it does become a coping mechanism and it can be a contributing factor.

Working from home and alcohol

While essential workers continue going to work, millions of Canadians are working from home. There are some silver linings to daily habits including being able to wake up later than before as well as being able to eat home cooked meals. For some, there is also the opposite, such as the newfound freedom to drink alcoholic beverages during work hours. While employers may not cause this behaviour change directly, it is important to address its potential implications for remote work policies going forward.

How can you create the right balance between being social while encouraging a healthy drinking culture?

Create awareness

How many of your employees know the acceptable limits for consumption and alcohol’s negative effects? How many of them are aware that using alcohol as a coping mechanism is getting normalized by social media and thus affecting a negative change in behaviour? Providing content and resources to promote healthy drinking behaviour is the first step to creating a healthy drinking culture in the workplace.

Make sure your company events aren’t always centered around alcohol

Even if employees are welcome to consume alcohol during meetings, events and celebrations, make sure the focus is not alcohol itself. This can be as simple as taking the focus away from alcohol and making sure the event is not called a “happy hour” or “drinks”. Including mocktails or other food items in the celebration can also make everyone feel included while taking the focus away from alcohol.

Build a resilient workforce

Employees may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism if they are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. Creating mental health awareness and destigmatizing getting help is the first step to creating a resilient workforce. Also reviewing the workplace culture and providing employees with the tools to cope can help with achieving and maintaining a healthy drinking culture.

Establish ground rules for work from home

As more companies choose to offer remote work as an option long-term, companies need to work with HR teams to establish ground rules. A policy statement on work from home policies encapsulating alcohol use can discourage employees from drinking at work hours. This can be further reinforced by educating leadership, investing in remote work training as well as having an open communication with employees to get their buy-in.

CloudMD’ s health and wellness program, Kii, provides organizations with Employee Assistance, Mental Health Supports, Telemedicine, Absence Management and Occupational Health & Safety. It’s all accessible through one, connected program with a highly skilled nurse to help employees navigate the full spectrum. Connect with us to bring this innovative program to your organization.