On Wellbeing

1st December 2023

Festive without the fizz: Why you don’t need spirits to build team spirit

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Discover how the festive season is getting a makeover in the corporate world, focusing on wellbeing and inclusivity

As December dawns, bringing with it the official start of the Christmas office party season, the air is filled with a mix of excitement and apprehension. For many, these festivities are a time to unwind and celebrate with colleagues. However, the traditional reliance on alcohol during these gatherings can create discomfort and challenges, particularly for those who don’t drink or are mindful of their mental health.

The festive season often brings together people who might not typically socialise, potentially leading to friction or awkwardness, exacerbated by alcohol consumption. A study by Mental Health UK reveals that people who work in corporate environments such as offices are more likely to drink alcohol and that employees in the private sector are 2.5 times more likely to have alcohol subsidised at work social events than the public sector. And this pressure to drink, particularly if a manager or a colleague has bought a drink for you, can potentially lead to increased anxiety and stress. Indeed, A 2019 study found that when employers or supervisors initiate drinking events, employees feel obligated to participate. Not the kind of holiday spirit companies intend to spread.

However, progressive organisations are now exploring more inclusive ways to celebrate, steering away from alcohol-focused events. This shift is not just about accommodating non-drinkers but about fostering a healthier, more supportive work environment, since workplace events centred around alcohol can lead to exclusion, uncomfortable situations and even health risks. Over the past few years, for instance, large companies including Salesforce and Uber made moves to reduce or completely ban alcohol in the workplace.

Creative alternatives to the traditional booze-heavy office party are gaining popularity. Activities such as team-building exercises in escape rooms, group cooking classes or volunteering for a charity can create a sense of community and inclusivity. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 workers and 250 employees in the UK from Totaljobs, revealed that that more than one in three workers see drinking with colleagues as outdated.

Moreover, the emphasis on alcohol-free events aligns with a growing trend among younger generations who are drinking less. Research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies shows that millennials and Gen Z are more health-conscious and are drinking less alcohol compared to previous generations, necessitating a shift in how companies approach team bonding and celebrations.

In the spirit of the season, some companies are turning to festive, but non-alcoholic, gatherings. These might include holiday-themed team lunches, winter sports activities or arts and crafts workshops, where the focus is on creativity and relaxation rather than drinking. A study from the Journal of Positive Psychology indicates that engaging in creative activities can boost mood and well-being, making it a suitable alternative for holiday events.

Additionally, focusing on inclusive activities can also have a positive impact on employees' mental health. Reports show that inclusive social events can improve mental health by creating a sense of belonging and reducing feelings of isolation.

As companies navigate the festive season, rethinking the traditional Christmas office party is more than just a trend. It's about creating an environment where all employees feel included, valued and able to fully participate in the festivities. This holiday season, let the spirit of inclusivity and wellbeing guide the celebrations, fostering a truly joyful and harmonious workplace.