Should Companies Serve Alcohol at Holiday Parties?

Alcohol and Office Parties

The Sacramento Business Journal reported on Monday that fewer companies are holding office holiday parties this year, according to a survey by the Society of Human Resource Management. It’s a shame that the article didn’t specify reasons for the decrease, which equaled about 30%.

As I read about the decrease in office parties, I wondered if alcohol was to blame. Organizations are becoming more aware of legal issues, particularly in situations where alcohol is served. Alcohol is known to decrease inhibitions, which can very easily lead to unprofessional behavior, including inappropriate jokes, unwanted advances, and racial slurs.

Last December, I wrote an article for HR & Talent Management regarding the trend for casual holiday get-togethers turning into “alcohol-fueled, frat-style parties rife with sexual tension and next-day regrets.” In fact, more and more often, the office holiday party ends in terminations and lawsuits.

Earlier this year, the Fair Work Commission determined that a male employee was unfairly terminated following his behavior at a company party where alcohol was served.  The individual sexually harassed colleagues and told his bosses to f— off, yet the Commission stated that the company cannot expect employees to remain professional in situations where unlimited amounts of alcohol are served.

Poll: Office Parties With or Without Alcohol

The Sydney Morning Herald, which posted the story of the drunken employee’s misconduct, surveyed readers to see if they would be willing to attend an office party if alcohol was not served. The results, seen below, are interesting. From those polled, it appears as if not many would enjoy the party if alcohol were not involved.

Christmas Party Alcohol Poll

This poll and its results are intriguing to me in two ways. Firstly, the majority of respondents – 62% – would not attend a party without alcohol, while another third would only attend briefly to make an appearance. So 95% of those polled would not attend an office party, or only do so briefly, if alcohol is not served.

Perhaps more importantly, I noticed that the wording of the survey implies that those not attending the office party will either be drinking elsewhere or would require the assistance of alcohol in order to deal with their boss after work hours. The survey purports to be about alcohol, but there is no option which will allow participants to say that they would not attend an office party regardless of the presence or absence of alcohol.

More Accurate Poll Questions and Their Meanings

I feel that a more accurate survey on this topic would include options such as:

  1. Yes, I would attend a party with or without alcohol.
  2. No, I would need a few beers to relax enough to interact with my boss and/or coworkers after hours.
  3. Yes, I would only attend an office party without alcohol.
  4. No, I feel that alcohol is what makes any sort of social engagement fun.
  5. Yes, but only briefly to be polite, even if alcohol were served.
  6. Yes, but only briefly to be polite, because there is no alcohol.

This line of questioning breaks down the reason for attending or not attending, separating the factor of alcohol along with other important considerations.

Questions 1 and 2 relate more to company culture and relationships within the organization.

Someone who responds with 1 would attend, and most likely enjoy, an office party regardless of the circumstances. This individual is most likely an engaged worker who fits in the culture and interacts with coworkers and managers easily. However, someone who selects number 2 probably struggles through the workday, often biting his tongue and rolling his eyes. Engagement levels are most likely low.

Questions 3 and 4 focus on the alcohol itself.

Someone who answers with number 3 has probably been to a party where someone has become intoxicated to the point of saying too much or acting inappropriately. Or perhaps they are afraid that they will feel pressured to drink and act unprofessionally. The individual who answer with 4 may be addicted to alcohol, even if they are not aware of it or not ready to admit it.

Questions 5 and 6 delve into those who will only attend briefly.

Someone who answers number 5 is not interested in attending an office party, but his decision has nothing to do with the presence or absence of alcohol. The individual who responds with number 6 is similar to someone who answers number 4. He prefers to include alcohol in social situations and will only briefly attend to be polite; however, if alcohol were available, he would stay longer.

What Is Your Opinion?

I would be interested in your opinion on this subject. Do you serve alcohol at holiday parties? Do you use ticket or otherwise limit intake? Do you offer free taxi rides after the party? Or did you just cut out office parties all together?

As an interesting side-note, I recently found out that all of the “trendy” new companies have kegs onsite. This brings out a whole new set of questions not only on alcohol and professionalism, but the general acceptance of alcoholic consumption in professional or social situations.


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