Sobriety in the Work Place – Keeping the Alcohol Out of This Year’s Holiday Party

Holiday Christmas at work.

With the holidays right around the corner, business owners, managers, and HR staff alike are searching the internet for holiday work party ideas. A lot of businesses are looking for something fun and different to do this year, a change-up from the same-old same-old, generic Christmas party.

Christmas parties for the employees and staff are a great way to bring the company together, to work on team-building and ice-breaking, and to get everyone together in a non-work-related environment. That is the goal. But for some reason (and this almost always happens), holiday work parties tend to lead to too much alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Use/Misuse in the Workplace – Looking at the Statistics

The fact that holiday office parties are often rife with heavy drinking is indicative of a much bigger problem within the workforce. Across almost all industries, alcohol use and misuse among employees is on the rise.

Several institutions provide excellent data not only on the condition of drug and alcohol misuse in the workforce but also on what employers can do about it. This data is essential to consider when planning this year’s holiday office party. And it’s wise to keep the following information in mind too, as we head into 2020 and kick off a brand new work year.

The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance offers data on industry-by-industry substance abuse trends. Quoting their research: “Combined data from 2008 to 2012 indicate that an annual average of 8.7% of full-time workers aged 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the past month, 8.6% used illicit drugs in the past month, and 9.5% were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.”

The NDWA also offers valuable data on the effect that alcohol abuse in the workforce has on a business’s profitability. When employees misuse alcohol, they drive up workplace absenteeism rates as well as employee turnover rates. These factors are quite costly to a business.

The NDWA recommends on-site drug education programs, talks, and seminars for employees and employers alike. The organization also encourages employers to have clear-cut policies on alcohol and drug abuse.

“Those who drank alcohol on average three or more times per week had about 3.2 injuries per 10,000 person-work-days, compared with 1.9 injuries per 10,000 person-work-days for nondrinkers, representing a 70-percent increase in risk.”
Drunk employee

And it’s not just fiscal expenses, absenteeism, and employee turnover that employers should be concerned about. The RAND Corporation reported on the link between workplace injuries, emergency room visits, and alcohol misuse on the part of employees. According to the research: “Those who drank alcohol on average three or more times per week had about 3.2 injuries per 10,000 person-work-days, compared with 1.9 injuries per 10,000 person-work-days for nondrinkers, representing a 70-percent increase in risk.”

When workplace injuries occur, such events take a considerable toll on the entire workforce. It’s not just those injured who are affected. The morale of the whole team is harshly affected when a fellow coworker suffers a severe accident or, even worse, a workplace death.

The statistics do not lie. Alcohol misuse on the part of employees is harmful to the employees who drink, it’s harmful to the other employees, and it’s harmful to the business as a whole.

So what can business owners, managers, HR staff, and other employees do to ensure a clean, sober, alcohol-free Christmas party?

Tips for Hosting a Sober Holiday Office Party

The generic, stereotypical holiday party usually involves the employees meeting at the workplace and primarily just socializing. Maybe there’s some Christmas music and holiday decor. Perhaps a potluck. Often times there will be a gift exchange. Almost always, alcohol is present. Coworkers have little more to do than stand around, drink, and make small talk.

The best way to encourage a sober, alcohol-free holiday celebration is to get the staff out and do something special. Rather than putting up some cheap decorations in the office and inviting everyone over for the boring “same old same old,” one should get the employees out and involved in an activity that does not include drinking.

Here are some fun ideas:

  • Bring the whole team to a group painting class. Social painting classes are taking off all over the world. A group painting organization based out of Australia called Life With Paint started a movement for alcohol-free, holiday-themed painting classes. That group encourages Aussies all across the continent to take part in sober group painting activities. Social painting includes lessons where all of the employees can get together, chat, learn more about each other, and create beautiful artwork in the process. It’s a social engagement, it’s not physically demanding, and it can serve as a team-building exercise. Getting the team together for a Christmas-themed, group painting class can be a great way to have a fun holiday party without alcohol.
Employees playing together
  • Create a fun game night. A great way to host a non-alcoholic Christmas party on a budget is for the staff to put together a game night. The reason why holiday work parties often end up as drunken messes is that coworkers don’t have anything to do at them. Staff who are in charge of organizing this year’s party might consider putting together a series of group-oriented games, such as Charades, card games, Tug of War, Movie ID, etc. That gets the coworkers involved and engaged.
  • Schedule an outing to a museum, zoo, park, or new city. Nothing recharges the batteries like a trip to a new place. Scheduling an excursion for this year’s holiday party can be a great way to not only keep alcohol out of this year’s seasonal bash, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for employee bonding, memory making, trust-building, etc.
  • Get the team together and volunteer. The holidays are all about generosity and solidarity. So why not get the team together and engage in a volunteer activity? Party organizers can look into volunteer opportunities in their local community or city. This is a great way to get the employees out and about and doing something that truly resembles the spirit of the holidays.
  • Find out what the employees want. At a loss for what to do for this year’s holiday party? Survey the employees! Party organizers should include on questionnaires that the party will be an alcohol-free one.

The holidays can be a time of joy, of giving back, of interacting and engaging with family, friends, loved ones, and coworkers. And that is much easier to do when one is sober and clear-headed. This holiday season, get your team on board with a sober celebration. Doing so is truly the best way to enjoy this special time of year.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.