As we emerge from the pandemic, in-person workplace social events are back up and running. Although this can be positive and allows people to meet and connect again, it does raise one important issue: the drinking culture within the professional services. Many social events will involve alcohol. Whilst this may be good for some, the drinking culture that exists within professional services can cause non-inclusivity for those who do not want to drink.
Our intern Susan Nelson has been looking into the issue and seeking out useful guidance from within and outside the IP professions. Keep reading her blog post to understand more about how organisations can create a healthy alcohol culture which ensures that nobody is excluded.
Many working in the professional services will tell you that drinking culture is rife, with many social events either involving or being centred around alcohol. It is seen as a way of winning new clients and unwinding from the stress that long hours and a demanding workload can bring. Junior staff may feel particularly pressured to consume alcohol so that they can fit into an organisation, bond with their colleagues and secure their career progression.
Why should we be concerned?
In addition to the obvious health problems (both physical and mental) associated with excessive alcohol consumption and potentially even addiction, alcohol can lead to or exacerbate many problems within the workplace. These include bullying, harassment, poor mental health and poor work performance. A study by Cornell University in 2007 found that increased alcohol consumption within the workplace increased the risk that women were likely to be harassed by their male colleagues. Equally, there have been recent incidents of sexual misconduct within law firms which are related to drinking.
Another key problem which can be linked to the drinking culture that exists within the professional services is non-inclusivity. Many people may choose not to drink due to a variety of reasons including lifestyle choices, health, religion and pregnancy. These individuals are often left feeling excluded from drinking events. They may be challenged about why they are not drinking or even feel pressured to do so.
What can we do?
To overcome these issues, the answer may not be to stop alcohol events entirely or to encourage people not to consume alcohol. Rather, it should be about creating a more inclusive workplace alcohol culture.
The Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division published a report in January 2020 called “Creating a Healthy Alcohol Culture: Guidance for Firms and Individuals” (link below). The report sets out practical steps that organisations can take to establish a healthy drinking culture. Some of these tips include:
- Establish a firm-wide alcohol policy.
- Offer activities and venues that cater to everyone.
- Avoid advertising events with alcohol names. For example, instead of naming an event “wine and cheese” it could be named “socialising”. This helps to take the focus away from drinking.
- At events, better non-alcoholic options should be offered and served in the same types of glass (to avoid drawing attention to those who are not drinking). Better non-alcoholic options should also be included in the tender criteria in catering contracts.
- The timing of the events should be reconsidered. For example, often social events are held in the evening. Instead, events could be held at other times of the day. This will help to include those who have young families or carer responsibilities.
- Encourage people not to ask others why they are not drinking. On a personal level, if you hear someone asking why a colleague is not drinking, try to change the topic.
- Prizes and rewards should not always involve alcohol. Instead, they could be a voucher for a restaurant or shop.
- Promote healthy alcohol events such as Dry January or Sober October.
- Provide workshops surrounding the benefits of changing alcohol consumption rather than workshops on the negative impacts of alcohol.
- Offer a low or non-alcoholic event.
- Offer a programme of events that includes non-alcoholic events too. This will empower individuals to feel as though they have a choice over events and whether to drink or not.
The Junior Lawyers Division also offers suggestions for non-alcoholic events. These include:
- Escape rooms
- Arts and crafts
- Food tastings (taking account, though, of different people’s dietary requirements such as for health, faith or cultural reasons)
- Guided tours
- Activity days
There are other suggestions as to how to create a healthier drinking culture within your organisation:
- Often alcohol can be used as coping mechanism. As such, firms should consider what issues within the workplace may cause individuals to consume alcohol. They should then seek to address these issues. Firms should strive to make their organisation an overall healthier place to work.
- Firms should have a clear stance: moderate or no drinking is okay. The message that drinking should not be a prerequisite to working in the professional services should be made clear to employees.
- Social events should be less centred around drinking.
- Have designated sober staff members at events. This is an approach law firm Linklaters have adopted. Law firm Baker McKenzie also has a curfew at drinking events.
Want to discuss more?
Evidently, organisations should be striving for a healthier, more inclusive approach to workplace activities. This is a theme we would like to explore further in future IP Inclusive events: keep an eye on our website events page and of course let us know if you’d like to be involved.
If you would like to discuss alcohol issues further, you could consider joining one of our six IP Inclusive communities. These are a safe space for under-represented groups to discuss any issues they have and share experiences and knowledge.
Sources & further information
- Law Society Gazette: “Time to tackle the law’s drinking culture” – https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/commentary-and-opinion/time-to-tackle-the-laws-drinking-culture/5102720.article
- Financial Times: “Drinking culture in legal world causing scrutiny following scandals” – https://www.ft.com/content/c3684b10-3cff-11ea-a01a-bae547046735
- Junior Lawyers Division: “Booze culture” article and downloadable PDF guide – https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/junior-lawyers-division-campaigns/booze-culture
- Bacharach S, Bamberger P, McLinney V (2007) “Harassing under the influence: the prevalence of male heavy drinking, the embeddedness of permissive workplace drinking norms, and the gender harassment of female coworkers”, J Occup Health Psychol. 2007 Jul; 12(3): 232-250
If you believe you need extra support, then please reach out to any of the following:
- LawCare helpline – 0800 279 6888
- drinkaware.co.uk for sources of advice and support
- Drinkline – a free national alcohol helpline. If you are worried about your own drinking or someone else’s you can call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9 am – 8 pm, weekends 11 am – 4 pm). There is also a corresponding online chat service, Drinkchat. See https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/alcohol-support-services/support-lines.
- Alcoholics Anonymous – a free self-help group that will support you to become sober through its 12-step programme
- SMART Recovery (a charity supporting people who are overcoming an addiction)
- Your GP
Page published on 17th October 2022
Page last modified on
I think this is a really important issue and a very balanced article. I mean I love a drink! But not everyone does, or is comfortable around drinking. Of course when it's free the attraction is even higher (so there's another potential way to address the issue in part, however unpopular...). It can be moderated with food too, or hands on activities. It's always difficult to address an issue by changing or removing what many see as a benefit. No easy answer - but plenty of good suggestions, thanks!