Office parties may seem like a distant relic of a pre-COVID world to some, but many businesses have returned to the office, at least in some fashion. Even some of those that remain fully remote are still having the occasional in-person get-together. Indeed, such events can be critical for maintaining some semblance of camaraderie and personal attachment among a mostly remote workforce.
But employers could inadvertently do more harm than good to their team-building efforts if they default to some long-standing employee hangout staples, like happy hours. That’s because younger workers in particular are increasingly less likely to consume alcohol than many of their predecessors.
Alcohol Use Diminishing Among Younger Workers
“Gen Zers are taking it slow as they enter adulthood, either by not drinking at all, or drinking less often and in less quantity than older generations,” writes Megan Carnegie in an article for BBC Worklife.
Carnegie points to the UK’s largest recent study of drinking behaviors which indicated that even back in 2019 interest in consuming alcohol was diminishing among younger demographics. In fact, at that time, 16-25 year olds the most likely to eschew alcohol entirely, with 26% not drinking at all. The least likely age group to be teetotalers? Those aged 55 to 74; among this group only 15% were non-drinkers.
Citing additional research Carnegie writes: “Among US adults, Gallup showed those aged 35 to 54 are most likely to drink alcohol (70%), compared to Gen Zers (60%) and Boomers (52%), while a study from 2020 found that the portion of college-age Americans who are teetotal has risen from 20% to 28% in a decade.”
These aren’t the only workers, of course, who may not be interested in consuming alcohol at work events—or at all. Women, for instance, may feel alcohol consumption might make them more vulnerable in these social situations. And those in recovery may also want to avoid these types of events.
That portends a different kind of dynamic as the holiday party season approaches, and an important issue for companies to consider.
Inclusion Demands Understanding
What this trend in drinking practices may portend is that Gen Z workers might disregard or even be put off by an invitation to get drinks with colleagues. This isn’t to say that employers should feel obligated to eliminate alcohol entirely from their social gatherings. However, it does mean that employers should consider events that offer more than just drinks to be inclusive of those younger workers (and workers in general) who choose to abstain.
For example, rather than hosting a happy hour at a bar, an employer could host one at a bowling alley that has an on-site bar area, which makes alcohol available to those who wish to partake, but doesn’t make it the main event.
An important thing that this data illustrates is how social attitudes change—and how important it is for organizations to be continually attuned to those changes and how they may impact traditional practices.