Should bosses pay for work drinks?

By Dana McCauley

Research shows some employers are unwilling to foot the bill at work-related gatherings. Photo / 123RF
Research shows some employers are unwilling to foot the bill at work-related gatherings. Photo / 123RF

It's that time of year again, when sunny days blur into champagne-soaked nights.

With spring racing season in full swing and Christmas around the corner, workers are shaking off their nine-to-five blues.

But the time-honoured tradition of work drinks could be under threat from stingy bosses who refuse to fork out for refreshments.

New research shows that two out of three employers are unwilling to foot the bill for food and drinks at work-related gatherings outside the office.

Even for "significant events", only half would pay up, the survey of 2024 business owners by hospitality deals app Clipp found.

That's a lot of sad, drab Christmas parties.

And experts say the result could be dire for the long-term success of businesses that rely on engaged and motivated staff.

THE HIDDEN VALUE OF SOCIAL EVENTS

Corporate anthropologist Michael Henderson said that while certain organisations had to be careful about how company events were perceived - with public sector bodies like the police an obvious example - private employers would be mistaken to undervalue the importance of work drinks.

"The social element of work is increasingly defining whether the culture of the organisation is perceived as worth belonging to or not," Henderson told news.com.au.

He said switched-on bosses saw hospitality bills as "an investment in engagement" that builds the "cultural currency" of "connection, trust, learning, sharing and intimacy".

And while it "may sound soft and fluffy", he said, "all of the research shows that people are more likely to quit their job over that than their pay packet".

Sitting down around a bar or dinner table with colleagues was important for co-workers to bond and for managers to affirm their humanness, he said, pointing out that the word "company" derived from the Latin word meaning "to share bread".

The social element of work is increasingly defining whether the culture of the organisation is perceived as worth belonging to.

"At a really basic, almost biological level, we're all kind of reminding each other that 'yes you may be the queen, but you still have to eat and drink'. It's a very equalising, symbolic gesture of our shared humanness - despite the stature, the politics, the status that otherwise often occurs inside of organisations just by the mere way that they're designed and function."

In his experience, Henderson said, businesses that did invest in social events were rarely disappointed by the outcome.

However, he noted that some workers were non drinkers, with certain faiths and cultural backgrounds precluding alcohol use.

"Increasingly, we are multinational but also multireligious, so sometimes maybe investing in the food is actually a more equalising thing."

BONDING WITH THE 'WORK FAM'

The good news for racing enthusiasts is that employers were slightly more likely to open their purse strings in honour of the race that stops the nation, with an extra 19 per cent willing to pay for Melbourne Cup day celebrations.

But when it came to birthdays, farewells, events and milestones - where three-quarters of bosses were in favour of marking these occasions at a bar, pub or hotel - only one in three would cover the cost.

Clipp co-founder Greg Taylor said it was "surprising to see so many employers reluctant to fully support social outings to enable work colleagues to bond".

"Having a team that is happy and healthy, and a team that gets along is central to employee retention and overall business success," Mr Taylor said.

"The reality for most Aussies in fulltime work is that they spend more time with the people they work with than their friends, family and partner."

- news.com.au

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