Photo: Keith Ellwood
After Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of perpetrating decades of sexual harassment and assault against women, the disturbing stories struck a nerve in our society that is still being felt today. Women across industries continue to come forward with their own stories of harassment and powerful men continue to lose their jobs as a result.
As part of this reckoning, employers are also taking a closer look at how workplaces can inadvertently facilitate sexual harassment. Contracts used to conceal these allegations are being challenged, the role of human resources departments are being debated, and now, as the season of office holiday parties comes upon us, more people are critically examining the role that alcohol plays in toxic workplaces.
Survey: Fewer employers serving free booze at parties in 2017
In a post-Weinstein world, more employers are hedging their bets and saying no to company-sponsored drinking after-hours. In its annual survey, consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that 49 percent of employers are going to serve alcohol this year at their office holiday party — down from 62% that had agreed to have alcohol at holiday events the previous year.
Vox Media, which recently fired its editorial director over sexual harassment allegations, is one of the companies that is scaling back on employer-funded drinking. This year, the company announced that there would be no open bar; instead, reportedly, there will be a two-drink limit at its holiday party.
In its explanation to staff members for the change in policy, Vox Media wrote that, “We recognize that even though alcohol isn’t always the reason for unprofessional behavior, creating an environment that encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it.”
Banning open bars
Along with asking bartenders to cut off intoxicated employees, banning open bars is the one of the top recommendations that The National Federation of Independent Businesses outlines “to minimize the risk of liability.” Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and when you are in a workplace scenario where the drinks are flowing, it creates tacit permission to act uninhibited, too.
That can lead to not just a hangover or embarrassing picture you’ll regret the morning after, but in some cases, lasting harm and lawsuits. One Cornell University study found that the likelihood of women being harassed at work more than doubled with each drink men at workplaces were allowed to drink. When your workplace has a drinking culture, aggression in all interactions becomes normalized, leading women to be more at risk, researchers found.
For employees to have the best time possible at your office holiday party, you want them to have fun while not losing control. By imposing limits on drinking, employers can signal their values — that, even after-hours, policies on how employees need to treat each other still stand.