Ask StratEx HR: Drinking at the Office – A Recipe for Disaster?

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Drinking at the office isn’t just for Don Draper anymore. More and more organizations are starting to implement practices that allow for drinking at the office, including office happy hours and kegs on tap.

Check out this recent submission to Ask a StratExpert, which dips into this intoxicating issue.

Dear StratEx HR,

Recently, we started to allow drinking at the office and have supplied alcohol for employees in the kitchen. It’s a nice way for our employees to wind down at the end of the day, and it fits our company culture.

Last week, an employee started drinking late in the afternoon and fell asleep in a client meeting! How can we prevent this from happening again (or getting worse) but still allow employees to have a casual drink?

Sincerely,
Boozin’ my Mind

Dear Boozin’,

As employees’ work schedules become more flexible and employees may be occasionally working later in the evening or on the weekend, employers may choose to provide provisions so their employees can have a drink (or a few). Some organizations claim the practice is good for employee morale and bonding – and may even claim that informal socializing can lead to better functioning teams and increased creativity.

While most employees will do just fine in using their own discretion to know when and how much to drink, there are several ways you can keep the lid on those that may overindulge on drinks in the office.

1. There’s a time and place for everything
Allowing employees to consume alcohol at any time can open you up to a host of liabilities as an employer. The easiest way to prevent any issues is to designate a specific day of the week and a time as the office “Happy Hour”. Placing limits on this time frame and keeping this time closer to the end of the workday, or even after hours, will minimize the disruption for everyone.

2. Know your limits
Be sure to communicate to employees that once the pre-set time of the Happy Hour is up, they’ll need to take the party offsite. This will protect you from potential liability that can come along with late-night drinking. If employees are provided a “shift drink” in a restaurant or hospitality setting, be sure employees serving the drinks are aware of the limit and are consistently trained to recognize when someone has been overserved.

beer_blog_askstratexhr3. Keep hard liquor off the table
If providing an open bar, offering up beer and wine still gives employees a way to have a few drinks without the potential risks that rounds of shots can bring.

4. Provide alternatives
Providing snacks and non-alcoholic beverages is a smart option for the many employees who may choose not to drink for a multitude of religious, health, or personal reasons. Plus, having food and other hydration options can come in handy to prevent employees from being overserved.

5. Arrange for transportation
All employees should be made aware that driving while intoxicated is strictly prohibited. Encourage employees to carpool with a designated driver, take a cab, use public transportation, or walk if possible. To limit your liability as an employer, either allow employees to expense cab rides home for events where drinking takes place or adhere to a strict no drinking and driving policy.

6. Stick to the rules
Be sure to clearly communicate all these policies in your company handbook so that employees are informed, and follow through to ensure you have sign-off that all employees are aware of expectations.

7. Consistency is key
Reliably following the guidelines laid out in your policy (including progressive discipline, if necessary) will get everyone on the same page. A violation of policy should result in the same progressive discipline steps, based on the severity of the violation – regardless of who the offending employee is.

By setting a time and place for drinking at the office and keeping the lines of communication open when it comes to new policies, you can create a policy that works best for your organization. The key is to tailor the policy to fit your organization’s culture and expectations, and to be consistent in responding to violations before any potential issues arise.

Cheers!
StratEx HR