29 January 2019 Community

After Dry January, what next?

Companies should stop making alcohol the focus of work events, say Priory experts - employees are switching on to the alternatives

If your employees have embraced Dry January to ‘reboot’, mentally and physically, why derail them in the months ahead with alcohol-fuelled company events? Increasingly, firms should stop making alcohol the focus of social gatherings and offer a variety of alternatives which remove the emphasis on alcohol, say addiction experts. It could increase creativity and productivity, they argue, while supporting employees in maintaining their personal desire to live more healthily.

Dr Paul McLaren, medical director at Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital in Kent, says the time is right to ask if you really need alcohol to lubricate work-social interactions?

“While it may seem an easy fix to keep the troops happy, what you are trying to achieve? Alcohol will certainly reduce social inhibitions, but the effects are unpredictable. It will work for some but while ‘in vino veritas’, the truth may not be good for either team cohesion or productivity”.

He continues: “Putting alcohol at the centre of work social events has always been risky. Some will take to it, but the increasing proportion of young people who are teetotal will not.”

Dr Niall Campbell, of Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, agrees. The idea that hangovers get worse with age is no myth, he says, and it has a lot to do with the body’s changing metabolism and, sometimes, prescription medications.  

“It is true to say that your body takes longer to recover from everything after your mid-twenties, partly due to inflammation and chronic diseases which your immune system and liver are fighting. Older people tend to have more chronic diseases than younger people. If you add the toxic effects of alcohol and its breakdown products, you will experience stronger hangover symptoms.”

There are plenty of alternatives to the boozy office social, and they are becoming increasingly popular.

“If the aim is relaxation, then why not go straight to group learning of meditation or mindfulness,” suggests Dr McLaren. To avoid alcohol, a firm could opt for cricket and afternoon tea events, sports events like rounders, even spa weekends, or picnics. Or there are sponsored runs, and comedy and pizza nights (with alcohol-free drinks), or innovative world café-style events (where participants discuss questions at their table over tea or coffee, before moving on to a new table/group for each new round).

Dr Campbell, a consultant psychiatrist, suggests evening cycle rides, board-game nights, cake-and-quiz nights.

But both agree that volunteering is one of the best ways to unite staff and foster great mental health – “a great workplace activity is to get out and help a local cause that aligns with your company values. And volunteering has favourable effects on depression, life satisfaction and wellbeing”, says Dr McLaren.

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