Victor Yocco is a researcher and strategist at a user focused research, design, and development firm located in Philadelphia, PA. He created waves across the internet by bringing a much less talked about aspect of tech-companies to the fore: free booze.
He wrote an article which appeared in VOX magazine about being a recovering alcoholic in an office where alcohol is everywhere. And it is true. Once you start looking at workplace functions, social events, conferences, especially in some specific sectors like tech, fashion, sales, through this specific lens - like I have after our podcast with Victor - the abundance of alcohol being served, even in the morning, is staggering. At hackathons alcohol is being served at all hours. This issue is splitting your workforce and participants into two groups: drinkers and non-drinkers.
Why is this an issue, you may ask. Alcohol is fun, it creates a relaxed environment, gives off the impression that we are a cool company, we attract young people...
Alcohol at the workplace is a huge issue. Not only, because according to research cited by Victor, alone in the US productivity loss due to alcohol related illnesses, absenteeism from work due to the effect of alcohol is in the billions USD. But the effects of alcohol are well documented on non-alcoholics too, as slowing down your reflexes, impacting brain and physical activities, intensifying existing mental health issues.
After speaking to Victor, another related issue got very clear to me. The very frequent use of alcohol consumption in relation to motherhood, especially working mothers.
As if only drinking copious amounts of (mainly wine) can get you through a day, a week or a lifetime of parenting. I acknowledge, that they may be funny, until you understand the magnitude of alcohol related problems, both in the family and at work. As soon as alcohol is promoted and glorified in parenting and work context, if you don't drink, for whatever reason - you become an outsider.
Victor sees it as important to stress, that he is not advocating for zero alcohol, but for an awareness and inclusive policies and practices, that will make everyone comfortable - drinking or not drinking.
What are some very practical recommendations?
When organising an event, a seminar, a team-building event, look at different venue options, not only bars or restaurants. As soon as you organise the event in a place where alcohol is served - the focus will be on the drinking. Why not chose company volunteering events, sports, arts, crafts, nature, games... the choices are endless. This way you can put playfullness, community spirit or team-spirit in the centre.
Use your words
If you are heading to a bar to relax or celebrate, use inclusive language to make everyone feel accepted and to take the pressure off. "We are heading to the bar, but if you don't want to drink, that's OK too". And make sure you chose places that offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages too.
The magic formula
Victor has come up with the universal rule as to when it is OK to ask someone why they aren't drinking: NEVER. A person may have a hundred different reasons to why they cannot, or won't drink. Recovery and sobriety may be one, but medication, treatments may be others, or growing up around people who abused alcohol may be another.
Chances are - by the sheer statistical evidence - that one or some of your employees or co-workers may be going through recovery. One of the key success factors for lasting sobriety is a strong support network, which may come in the form of counselling and support groups. Allowing flexible work-schedules for your staff to attend these vital meetings may make all the difference for them, and for you too!
Victor is on Twitter, and would be happy to hear from you. He also wrote a book called Design for the Mind - Seven Psychological Principles of Persuasive Design and is offering to the listeners a discount code for 39% off: whyoccopc.