Free beer - party time!
A recent Glassdoor article highlighted 13 companies within the UK who provide free beer as part of their employment perks.
Now the "party me", says that's a great and cool thing and makes me think they must be fun places to work. I used to envy friends and associates whose parents owned a pub or a brewery or a vineyard; and the "younger me" foolishly thought I'd hit a career peak when i landed a job where the boardroom fridge was always kept fully stocked. Certainly, when you're socialising with shy or reticent workmates, getting the conversations started over a beer or two or three can be a handy thing and maybe that's why some companies are promoting their free beer perk.
But the "sensible me" has some concerns.
What burden if any is on the HR team to encourage a sensible drinking limit? And who does it fall to, to set and monitor those limits? Do managers automatically assume responsibility for the welfare of their employees and ensure no one is imbibing too much booze?
A company I worked for in London unofficially measured your "team-player" competency by the number of times you attended their free drinks events, and that turned out to be not such a good idea. For starters, some people cannot or will not drink alcohol, for an array of reasons inclusive of health and religion. Some people simply should not drink - some are not funny or mellow or charming when "under the influence". At that company, where some of our workforce were struggling to afford to eat properly, pouring free booze into empty stomachs led to police and ambulance involvement, embarrassment and notoriety, absenteeism, and a veritable minefield for the HR team in the disciplining process.
If free booze is overtly or covertly a key attraction of working for your company, I wonder if you wind up hiring people with the right motivation to join a high performance work environment? Will you really be getting to hire the best talent available given that access to alcohol doesn't motivate (and in fact might deter) a chunk of the workforce?
Is free alcohol actually a form of employment discrimination and/or diversity risk? After all, you may not feel able to apply for (or be offered) a job at such a company if you don't embrace a drinking culture, so goodbye various religious groups, single parents who need to care for kids, people who don't have safe transport links back home, etc, etc
Is this just another instance of a great management idea, that sounds like a lot of fun, but results in another mess to clean up by the HR team? An instance where HR once again get to be the party poopers - as they sort out the drunk and disorderly, manage the binge drinkers, and figure out creative ways of employment termination to cover the real issues of someone getting too nasty or frisky with a drink in the belly.
In countries like the UK, I recognise that booze is so commonly a component to social and business relationships. I'm also mindful that the UK faces the issues associated with an escalating binge drinking population. Throw into the mix an increasingly litigious society; and you'll see that the inclusion of free beer as a company perk has some interesting considerations. Aside from the additional risk exposure to a company and its leadership teams, what are the more broad reaching aspects of how this impacts and defines a company culture? And who if anyone should consider and own any impacts on employee safety and welfare?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as a HR professional. in the meantime, salud! prost! cheers! bottoms up! gom bui! kampai!