'I get resentful' | Boss 'forces' drinking on post-work Zoom happy hour

Boss 'forces' drinking on post-work Zoom happy hour

Since the dawn of the pandemic, companies the world over have attempted to maintain internal company culture by introducing digital ‘social hours’ into the working week. Often, these take place on Fridays, and feature quizzes, games, chatting and the occasional alcoholic beverage.

And whilst this time in the week earmarked for non-work-related chat can be an effective way of keeping corporate cultural bonds alive, bosses must tread carefully in ensuring that they aren’t adding additional pressure to workers who are already going through the stress of the pandemic.

An example of a leader getting this balance wrong recently made headlines when an anonymous worker wrote in to The Cut’s Ask a Boss column looking for a solution to the situation that their manager had consistently put them in.

“I’m in my first job after graduating last year, and will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this means my boss has taken it upon himself to organise 'happy hours' outside of work hours,” the anonymous worker wrote.  

“These aren’t really happy hours; they’re more 'work meetings with alcohol on Zoom,' and while they’re framed as not ‘technically’ obligatory, they definitely are, and I get pointed comments if I choose to not attend. My manager will bring them up in team meetings, saying, 'Oh, you’re not busy because you’re all in lockdown, haha!' and then expect us all to show up.

“I hate the expectation that, every other Thursday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. you’re going to be in a work call that’s outside of business hours so we can drink but also talk about work. The longer this continues, the more resentful I get,” they added.

The anonymous request for help speaks to a larger issue that many are facing at the moment. Whilst workers are remote, the onus does fall on the company to ensure that culture is taken into account, however the above comments are a master class in the wrong way to conduct such interactions.

Here are the key issues with the experience of this worker, all of which HR needs to avoid:

It’s alcohol-centric

Whilst there’s technically nothing wrong with encouraging workers to have a drink when chatting in a social space, by centring the experience on the consumption of alcohol the company is potentially alienating workers who may not choose to drink for health, moral or religious reasons. Social spaces should be all-inclusive – workers who feel like they’re being alienated are far less likely to engage and gain something positive from the experience.

It’s largely out of working hours

Workers are already fatigued by the current pandemic. Work-life balance is already under threat of being disrupted, and don’t fool yourself into believing that this is not a company-based initiative. Therefore, it needs to take place in company time. By expecting people to take significant time out of their personal lives to socialise at work, you’re only creating further issues in work-life balance.

Work is the primary topic of discussion

The concept of building internal relationships through social time is predicated on an explicit ban on work-talk. If you’re putting this time aside for people to share a meaningful conversation about their lives, there should be a zero-tolerance on the subject turning to work.

It’s non-mandatory (but actually mandatory)

At all times, but especially in the current pandemic, being clear and concise about what is expected of workers is imperative. Claiming that a social event is optional, but then chastising someone for not attending is not only sending the message that there is an unspoken expectation to go beyond what is technically requested, but it’s also manipulative.

Whilst the above example may be an extreme case of poorly conceived work social time, it’s likely that similar issues have arisen in innumerable other companies promoting the same initiative. A simple solution to creating a social space would be to create a questionnaire for staff to inform HR what they would find beneficial in this time. This way, many of the common pitfalls experienced by individuals such as this anonymous worker can be avoided.

How are you tackling remote-based social time? Let us know in the comments…

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