Drinks, Anyone?

The future of afterwork socializing in the post-pandemic culture.

It was not unusual to gather with others for drinks and darts after work when I worked in an office where I was friendly with more than a dozen people. Now, sitting in remote work solitude most days, I wonder where that culture has gone, and if it still exists anywhere.

Survey Says

An article on the BBC site by Megan Carnegie explores that very question, including whether alcoholic beverages should be part of any work event. “In the UK, according to 2022 research from education charity Drinkaware, alcohol is more deeply ingrained in the private sector, with 86 percent of these employees more likely to say that there’s an expectation to drink at employer events than the public sector (15 percent vs. 8 percent). They’re also 2.5 times more likely to have alcohol subsidized at work social events than in the public sector (23 percent vs. 9 percent),” Carnegie writes.

She also notes that some people feel pressured to drink at work events if others are partaking. As a person who is not always in the mood to drink, I never felt that way. Funnily enough, though, an older employee once assumed I would feel discomfort from abstaining, and gave me tips for ordering drinks that looked like they had alcohol in them.

“Research from 2019, conducted by researchers at the University of Stavanger in Norway, found that when employers or supervisors initiate drinking, employees feel obligated to participate. And among people in the UK, half of those surveyed by researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland admitted to being pressured into drinking alcohol by colleagues and family. It also showed that generally, men felt coerced into drinking more often than women, with men 20 percent more likely to be encouraged into drinking by their colleagues and 37 percent more by their bosses,” Carnegie reports.

Getting to Know You

The larger question for me is whether, not just drinking, but the events themselves, are now past their prime. With most people going into an office environment just two to three days per week, do employees still want to gather for afterwork socializing and events with co-workers? I do, but I may be in the minority. When I expressed my enjoyment of spending time having dinner and drinks with colleagues on business trips, one of my co-workers said that there were other people he would rather spend time with. He later partially took that back, and said he did, in fact, enjoy dinners and drinks with me.

When you socialize with your co-workers, with or without alcohol, your eyes are opened to who they are beyond the daily work aggravations. I always tell my friends that I enjoy my colleagues most when drinking and dining with them. You can laugh, and say, “Of, course! Who wouldn’t enjoy another person more after a couple drinks?” However, I think it’s more than that. It gives me greater sympathy for my co-workers when we socialize outside of work. I am able to take that sympathy and apply it when they are angering me in work exchanges. Socializing with colleagues gives you the information you need to find them tolerable in the worst of work times, and to better understand how they communicate. A joking tone in-person may come across in e-mail as snarky or cruel. If you spend enough time in-person with an individual who communicates this way, you come to understand that it’s just their dry sense of humor that they’re expressing, no offense intended.

Non-Alcoholic Alternatives

The other interesting thing is that many younger employees today may be more interested in sobriety and healthy living than drinking. To ensure there is no discomfort, and that everyone can participate in work social events, you could visit a coffee shop that has desserts, coffee, hot chocolate, and healthy snacks. As someone who does savor a good espresso martini from time to time, it would be a disappointment, but I would take one for the team and enjoy my alcohol-free coffee.

Maybe the secret to afterwork socializing in the current era is to do it monthly or quarterly instead of every week, to choose a venue without alcohol, and to keep it fully relaxed, as afterwork drinks would be, rather than allowing the gathering to turn into an extension of a business meeting. Who knows? When your employees see how enjoyable their colleagues can be, maybe they’ll be more eager to take back their old desk in the office.

Does your organization encourage after- and outside-of-work socializing among colleagues? How do you feel about the inclusion of alcoholic beverages at these gatherings?