Is it time to end free Friday drinks?

22 Jul 2019 By Roz Wood

Employers must find out exactly what their staff prioritise to get the most out of them and the business, argues Roz Wood

It is widely accepted that today’s workforce looks for more from their jobs than a regular pay cheque; a positive culture and attractive employee benefits are increasingly crucial to successful recruitment and retention. According to company review website Glassdoor, nearly 80 per cent of staff would choose better benefits over a pay rise, with 60 per cent considering benefits a major factor in accepting a job offer.

Across the world organisations have been experimenting with a range of benefits that go beyond the traditional package to attract the best employees. One of the big trends in recent years is the introduction of ‘beer o’clock’ – most commonly in the form of free drinks on a Friday. Companies including Twitter, Yelp and Dropbox are among those that have offered staff ‘al-desko’ drinking, giving rise to businesses such as DeskBeers, which delivers beers to offices keen to deliver that Friday feeling to employees.

But with alcohol sales in decline in Scotland and young people turning away from alcohol as they become more health-conscious, employers that offer staff a free Friday beer may be questioning their approach. Workplace bars are also deeply unpopular among campaign groups and the International Labour Organization estimates that 40 per cent of workplace accidents are caused by alcohol. 

So what perks should employers be considering? Supporting health and wellbeing is increasingly prominent. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recently urged employers to take a more active role in promoting physical wellbeing, calling on businesses to offer subsidised gym memberships, running clubs and lunchtime yoga classes to combat soaring rates of obesity. 

Access to mental health support including counselling is also being incorporated into workplaces. Stress, depression and anxiety are now the leading causes of workplace absence, accounting for 15.4 million sick days in 2017-18, according to the Health and Safety Executive. 

Financial wellness education is another benefit increasingly being offered by firms. In the US, employers including EY are offering student loan benefit schemes, which pay off student debt. 

Asking employees for their feedback is crucial. Employers must gain insight into what exactly their staff prioritise to get the most out of them and the business.

A recent survey of employees found that their top perks were all linked to creating places to share interests and grow social connections, with activities such as book clubs, pool and table tennis tables and office sports teams being most sought after. Friday post-work drinks, by contrast, ranked in 38th place in the survey; even though the analysis found that 41 per cent of employers advertised this a perk. 

And don’t forget that it isn’t always necessary to reinvent the wheel. According to research conducted by insurers Aviva, traditional benefits are still highly rated by employees, with 22-35 days of paid annual leave cited by respondents as the perk they’d most like to receive (44 per cent), followed by a pension scheme (41 per cent) and flexible working (39 per cent).   

Businesses that are reviewing or introducing employee benefits must consult their advisers, and make sure they communicate the benefits to employees. 

Roz Wood is head of HR services at Law At Work

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