“How do I tell my colleagues I don’t want to drink without killing the festive spirit?”

Written by The Honest Boss

The festive season typically means that drinks start flowing. But how do you navigate office parties and alcohol gifts when you’re teetotal?

“I don’t drink (for both cultural and health reasons) but much of my corporate job is geared around alcohol: weekly office beer trolleys and boozy client lunches. At our company’s recent anniversary, they left a bottle of champagne on everyone’s desk without considering that some of the team might not be able to have it. How do I approach the subject or suggest social activities that don’t involve drinking without seeming like I’m spoiling everyone else’s fun, especially in the run up to Christmas?”

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While a boozy corporate culture is much less common nowadays, it is a bit of a bore for a non-drinker to tolerate. However, in the way that you would like others to appreciate your preferences, you need to return the favour. Just because you don’t love it, it’s important to remind yourself that many of your team enjoy an opportunity to relax with colleagues.

You are however justified in feeling less than thrilled about others getting drunk at a lunch while you are stone-cold sober. No one finds that position particularly comfortable but it’s useful to learn how to handle difficult situations. My hunch is you won’t be the only one not drinking on these beery occasions. Look around next time and observe how many others are politely leaving their drink untouched or indeed choosing a soft drink instead.

Your company needs to wake up and appreciate that sobriety is no longer a passing trend – it’s a way of life that millennials and Gen Z have spearheaded. This persistence with boozy lunches is becoming outdated, so it’s perfect timing for you to lose your anxiety and celebrate your preference for abstinence. 

Handling the scenario with a light touch is key. Show appreciation for receiving the bottle of champagne (you could always re-gift it to a colleague) and then create a list of alternative ideas to present to your bosses for the next event. Email whoever is responsible saying that while you appreciate the champers, could they mix it up next time with a restaurant/gift/spa voucher. Your fellow non-drinkers will cheer you on while your bosses should acknowledge your efforts to modernise the culture.

The secret to being a good colleague is learning how to join in without compromising your authentic self.

Have a think about activities that would bring everyone together that don’t centre around alcohol. This should be easy during the festive build up: as well as the usual sporting and eatery options, you can select from ice-skating, festive shows, panto, Christmas fairs, quizzes as well as all kinds of Winter Wonderlands. The reason these kinds of events work is that alcohol can be included without being the dominant focus. This way, everyone’s happy. If you make the effort to create another event that is genuinely inclusive, then you’re bound to succeed in attracting a range of enthusiasts.

If you avoid these situations altogether, you risk being cast as an outsider who prefers their own company. But with a tiny effort on your part, you can definitely persuade others to have fun without the hangover.

Images: Getty

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