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How to Create an Inclusive Company Alcohol Policy

Employers have a difficult balancing act when it comes to regulating alcohol- exciting for some but challenging for those in recovery. Let's dive into how employers can create alcohol policies that are inclusive for all employees.

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Mar 29, 2023

With celebrations like March Madness and Saint Patrick’s Day, March is a month associated with heavy alcohol use. A recent study by Alcohol.org found that the average person consumes more than four alcoholic beverages on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s also the holiday men most associated with alcohol, according to the same study.

Employers have a difficult balancing act when it comes to regulating alcohol. Although the presence of alcohol can be exciting for some people, it can be challenging for those in recovery from a substance use disorder. Mixing work and booze can also leave companies in a sticky situation as alcohol causes people to lose their inhibitions and often act impulsively.

Now, let’s dive into the current state of alcohol use in the workplace and discuss how employers can create alcohol policies that are inclusive for all employees:

Understand the current state of alcohol and alcoholism in the workplace

For starters, approximately 9% of workers meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder. Dan Erstad, vice president of commercial at Monument, an online alcohol treatment platform, explained that even in a company as small as 100 people, roughly 10 may be impacted by alcohol.

Consequently, Erstad advised leadership to start by taking an inventory of where alcohol shows up in the workplace, like company events, client dinners, and company offsites. Then, he suggested leaders ask: “Is this responsible?” and “Are we creating settings and environments where certain employees may feel stigmatized and put in positions that are challenging to them?”

“People are going to continue to drink,” noted Erstad. “It's not about a wagging finger and saying, ‘You shouldn’t drink.’” He instead highlighted that the goal of responsible alcohol policies is to determine where alcohol is present, assess what options are available to ensure employees feel safe at work, and ensure those who are in recovery feel supported.

Question cultural norms around alcohol use in the workplace

As you start to build out your company’s alcohol policy, Donna Hardaker, a consultant and workplace mental health expert who is also a stability leader and speaker coach with The Stability Network, recommended employers identify, question, and challenge any cultural norms they may hold onto around alcohol use in the workplace. She explained that companies have learned to successfully adapt other policies, such as a scent-free workplace, that might have felt eccentric at first. Therefore, organizations might consider reflecting on why they haven’t taken a similar approach to removing alcohol, “an equally poisonous substance for some people,” from the workplace.

Hardaker, who lives with complex trauma and associated episodic depression, anxiety, and addiction, said your organization can then reflect on questions like: “How do we create a festive celebratory event without having to have alcohol at it?” and “Are there other ways we can celebrate being together that don't rely on this substance [alcohol] that is toxic for some of our employees?”

While Hardaker didn’t advise outright disclosing if you personally struggle with alcohol, if you’re an ally, she said allies can speak up within your company and ask management, “Do we need to have alcohol at our events? Perhaps we can have fancy mocktails without any alcohol in them.” According to her, mental health allies are incredibly helpful for making the workplace safer for people with substance use disorders, as there can be a significant career risk for those who self-disclose.

Reflect on your commitment to employee well-being and health

Erstad shared that employers play a central role in supporting employee mental health and recovery and “have an obligation to really think about how they can support their people in a way that is inclusive and using evidence-based tools and resources.” He added that this must extend beyond a token gesture because “when people address their mental health, they're more productive, they're happier, and it’s something that has an absolute ripple effect.”

Hardaker recommended, “Employers really step into their commitment to the well-being of their people.” While some workers may feel okay with alcohol and most are able to consume alcohol in a healthy way, “every single workplace that has more than five people in will statistically have at least one person who has a mental health condition,” she explained. With this in mind, she said all employers should assume they have workers who struggle with alcohol and ask: “How are we taking care of their well-being?”

Employers might also consider speaking to the use of alcohol to destress and educating employees on alternative ways to unwind after work. “Know this isn’t about employers directing people on what they do when they’re not at the office,” she clarified. “This is about employee health and part of a broader conversation about how employees can take care of themselves.”

To discuss this or other workplace topics, reach out to Kyle.

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