Employers have plenty of things to worry about when hosting a holiday party: Co-workers overdrinking, flirting, gossiping and dressing inappropriately, just to name a few. One concern that is not often addressed is how a boozy work event can affect professionals who don't imbibe.
A recent study conducted by North Carolina State University has found that professionals who don't consume alcohol feel awkward and judged for declining to have a drink at company social events where drinking is the norm.
"Alcohol can help create and strengthen workplace relations," Alex Kjerulf, self-proclaimed "Chief Happiness Officer" and author of Happy Hour Is 9 to 5, tells Inc. "But the point is to find a way to get to know your co-workers as people instead of just as professionals, and to do it in a way that does not exclude non-drinkers."
Non-drinkers struggle to make their sobriety understandable to co-workers and clients, according to the study. Some go as far as lying to justify their sober behavior so they can still participate and not miss out on networking and career opportunities.
A few common strategies non-drinkers use to hide their sobriety and fit in include being ambiguous ("I'm not drinking tonight"), volunteering to be a designated driver, buying a drink just for show and coming up with health- or work-related excuses ("I'm trying to lose weight" or "I've got an early day tomorrow"). These strategies all stem from the pressure to conform and can lead to being disingenuous with colleagues.
Whereas HR's biggest nightmare is typically the problem drinkers, they should also pay attention to the needs of non-drinkers by hosting social events that don't require alcohol (or at least make sure non-alcoholic beverages are provided) and offer sensitivity and management training to create a company culture of inclusion that is accepting of different lifestyles.
"This past weekend I was at a client's Christmas party and the HR manager and president did not drink, which sets an excellent example," adds Paul Marciano, employee engagement consultant and author of Carrots and Sticks Don't Work.
Spare yourself the hangover.