We are a small business that has always had a drinking culture. Our office is opposite a pub and our chairman – the son of our founder – is always keen to get the drinks in after work. But I’ve noticed that some of our new staff feel less comfortable with drinking, often at lunchtime as well as in the evening. One doesn’t drink for religious reasons and often opts out of social nights. Things reached a head at Christmas when one employee was banned from the pub after arguing with a barman. But I don’t see how I’m going to persuade some of our more senior people, who enjoy a drink, that there’s a problem.
I’m not against the idea of going for a drink after work. But the days of drunken, compulsory all-night ‘team bonding’ sessions are over in most industries. What amazes me is that people can’t see the very obvious problems that occur when anyone feels they have to be propping up the bar to be part of things or to progress their career.
You need to point out the dangers to your chairman – from the legal implications for equality (the employee who doesn’t drink for religious reasons is an obvious example here) to health and safety issues and potential vicarious liability if a violent or discriminatory act occurs during an officially sanctioned booze-up.
More practically, you are already seeing signs that staff are disengaged by the culture and they may come to take the business less seriously, and prefer to go somewhere more professional, if it is seen as a boys’ club. There are plenty of surveys suggesting millennials in general are less likely to regularly drink to excess than previous generations, so you could end up on the wrong side of history.
You need to explain these risks and what you are already seeing, making it clear that you don’t want to stop people having fun but you feel the pub isn’t the only place it should happen – there are all sorts of social events that are more inclusive and might resonate more with younger staff. And if your chairman won’t see sense, your founder – if they are still involved – may need to have a parental chat about workplace practice.