Beer Fridge Culture: Is it right for your business?

By: Lindsay Coobs

Does booze have a place in the workplace? As an HR professional, my immediate thoughts turn to possible legal liabilities and everything else that could potentially go wrong. However, many companies today are embracing the beer fridge culture. From start-ups to major corporations, alcohol consumption at work is slowly making a comeback. However, before your company invests in a beer cart or kegerator, consider all aspects on how alcohol consumption in your workplace could positively or negatively impact your company culture.

Is it Right for Your Company?

Certain industries should obviously be eliminated, such as healthcare, transportation and construction. Other industries, such as technology, advertising, marketing and engineering seem to most frequently support the beer fridge culture. The competition for top talent in these industries (especially technology) is fierce. Many companies aim to have the most attractive company culture, and are not concerned with playing it completely safe when it comes to possible legal implications or other consequences of drinking at work. Bloomberg names Yelp, Twitter, Crowd Flower and Tello as companies which support drinking at work in efforts to reward and retain employees working long hours.

Fortune cites Arnold Worldwide as having a beer vending machine named Arnie. J. Walter Thomas advertising agency boasts that their 50 foot bar helps to incentivize and enthuse employees. Minneapolis ad agency Colle + McVoy uses free beer as an incentive for employees to complete their timesheets.

It is Not Really About the Beer

Beer fridge culture aims to create an environment where employees want to work. It is about finding ways to make your employees engaged and motivated to work long hours. It is also about showing trust and finding ways for employees to relax, bond and collaborate together – for those that feel comfortable with alcohol in the workplace. Employees who do not consume alcohol have the opposite opinion.

To Have or Have Not

Before you park the beer keg next to the water cooler, be sure you understand the risks and legal liabilities associated with providing alcohol in the workplace. Additionally, understand that some employees might choose not to consume alcohol because of religion, health issues or personal beliefs and, therefore, may feel excluded or uncomfortable. This could have a polarizing and negative effect on office culture. Others might feel an obligation to partake in alcohol consumption. Employees should never feel socially or professionally pressured to drink alcohol. If the workplace culture supports alcohol, be sure to offer a variety of non-alcoholic options as well.

Clarity Way, a drug and alcohol rehab facility, created this infographic poster on drinking in the workplace. This infographic, from the perspective of a rehab facility, is a great visual and offers additional insight into the potential benefits and consequences of drinking at work.

Other Perks

There are other perks companies can implement that do not include alcohol, such as free lunches, onsite yoga, massages, soda fridges, popcorn machine, dry cleaning, ping pong and foosball tables – just to name a few ideas. According to First We Feast, BuzzFeed, Reddit and Twitter all have cold brew coffee kegs on tap as an alternative to beer. Many small businesses and start-ups cannot afford to offer a large suite of health and medical benefits, so many of these small perks can go a long ways.

Booze at Company Events

Many business leaders consider providing alcohol at company sponsored events, such as picnics, holidays or other celebratory events. Similarly to having a beer fridge, employers should proceed with caution when serving alcohol at events. If you choose to, consider making attendance to the event optional. Also, limit alcohol intake by issuing drink tickets and serving plenty of food. Be sure to have a plan to get employees home safely if they overindulge.

Thoughts from an HR Consultant

If you hire smart, high performing talent, you can make it work- but should you? As an HR professional, the risks of consuming alcohol at work outweigh the rewards. However, many companies with unique cultures are proud and protective over their beer fridges and work hard-play hard practices. These companies should instill policies and expectations around the consumption of alcohol at work, along with policies on discrimination, harassment and retaliation.