Office as social hub? Stick to serving soft drinks only

A sobering survey from the Chartered Management Institute in the UK suggests that lacing the office as a social destination with lashings of booze could be asking for trouble

One of the most favoured reincarnations of the office for the new era is to remake it as social hub – a place to reconnect with colleagues and create community. Many senior leaders support a strong social emphasis in the workplace, if only to make reluctant returners show their face occasionally.

If all that bonding and schmoozing at work sounds ghastly – and for many it does – then any reservations are swiftly set aside in the interests of team building. What could possibly go wrong with a bit of social interaction?

 ‘A third of female managers have seen inappropriate behaviour at social gatherings with booze…’

When you add alcohol to the mix, a lot apparently. According to a new survey in the UK from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), a third of female managers and a quarter of male managers have seen inappropriate behaviour – including harassment – at social gatherings in the workplace when booze is part of the mix.

The CMI is a professional body focusing on management and leadership. It surveyed more than 1,000 managers at the end of April 2023. Four out of ten said work parties should be organised around activities that don’t involve alcohol – and the younger the manager, the more they felt that booze should be banned, reflecting generational change.

Early-morning martini

Those of us with long careers can remember a time when alcohol was a regular feature of working life. In the era of Mad Men, an early-morning martini in Manhattan was commonplace. In Britain, many workers started their drinking in the office long before that after-work trip to the pub.

In more recent times, alcohol at work has been frowned upon, but it is reappearing with the desperate ‘happy hour’ culture that company bosses are pushing in a bid to bring people back to the office. The CIM’s findings come hard on the heels of a very British scandal involving accusations of rape and sexual harassment at prominent business lobbying group the CBI, whose social gatherings went so badly wrong that it is struggling to rescue its reputation as an organisation and could fold entirely.

The message from the CIM survey is – don’t go there. Leave booze out of it. Or as management writer Stefan Stern eloquently put it: ‘Sometimes we are told to “bring your whole self to work”. But we should probably leave our hangovers at home.’

Jeremy Myerson is director of WORKTECH Academy and co-author of Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office
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