Alcohol in the workplace

Date Published

18th February 2022


Research highlight




Although alcohol has been a part of UK work culture for many years now it has come under the microscope in recent weeks. To better understand the role of alcohol in the workplace, Drinkaware took a closer look at people’s experiences in both the public and private sector.

According to Drinkaware research, people working in the private sector are 86% more likely to say there is an expectation to drink alcohol at employer events than the public sector (15% vs 8%). While people working in the private sector were 38% more likely to report alcohol being consumed in the workplace (16% vs 11%). Interestingly, alcohol was also shown to be more deeply ingrained in the private sector, with employees 2.5 times more likely to have alcohol subsidised at work social events than the public sector (23% vs 9%).

Pressure from the top

Perhaps more concerning, was the pressure people felt to drink from those they report to. In fact, people in the private sector were 3.6 times more likely to feel the pressure to drink from their managers than those in the public sector (4.6% vs 1.3%). The findings further highlight the presence of peer pressure in the workplace and how it can affect us.

Common signs of peer pressure

The following scenarios are some common forms of peer pressure. Spotting them in advance can often help to address it and keep your drinking within low-risk levels.

  • Being in a ‘round’ with colleagues and feeling you need to keep up.
  • A colleague, friend, or boss pleading with you to stay for ‘just one more’.
  • Being offered, or handed a drink and not wanting to look impolite for saying no.
  • Someone opening a bottle and pouring you a glass without asking you first.
  • Being at an event where drinks are continuously ‘topped up’ without being requested.
  • Not wanting to be thought of as a ‘bore’ if you’re in a group where everybody’s drinking.
  • Being mocked or teased for not drinking on a night out.
  • Having a ritual with a friend or colleague – like a regular drink after work, that you feel you can’t break.
  • Being ridiculed because you’re not drinking a certain amount or drinking quickly enough.
  • Feeling isolated or left out of social circles if you choose not to drink.

Know your limits

Alcohol can impact your health and safety at work in different ways. Regularly drinking above the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines of 14 units a week can increase your risk of a range of long-term health conditions, including heart and liver disease and seven types of cancer.

If you drink regularly and heavily, you may also see your productivity and energy dip so that you might not be performing at your best. Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of injury or accidents in the workplace too. If you are struggling at work, alcohol can also make stress harder to deal with in the long run as it acts as a depressant.

If you do choose to drink, it’s safer to drink no more than 14 units a week and include several drink-free days spread evenly through the week, with no bingeing. It can be hard to know how much you’re drinking, but tools like the MyDrinkaware app can help you stay within safer limits.

Creating a more inclusive work culture

Alcohol has always played a part in workplace culture, whether it’s entertaining customers and clients or socialising with friends and colleagues. To create a healthy and inclusive work culture it’s always good to remember that alcohol might not be for everyone. Some people choose not to drink at all, or only occasionally, so always including alcohol or creating work events around it can lead to some people feeling excluded. In fact, 32% of people who expect to drink alcohol at an employer-organised social event stated that they had not attended due to the expectation to drink alcohol.

If you’re organising a work event, it’s always worth asking how you might improve the employee experience for everyone. Could the event be more creative or inclusive of other people’s choices? It’s also best practice to ensure there are alcohol-free alternatives available, and that there is never a pressure, subtle or otherwise, on people to drink.

Did you know?

Individuals in the private sector were 17% more likely to consume 15 or more units a week than their public sector counterparts (24% vs 21%), outing them above the low-risk drinking guidelines.


Learn more about Drinkaware at Work and the training we offer


Find out more

Understand the low-risk drinking guidelines

Study reveals peer pressure is experienced at all ages  

How to deal with peer pressure

How to help someone who has drunk too much

What is Drinkaware at Work?

About the research

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 3,021 employees. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th - 27th October 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults in employment (aged 18+). Please note all percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.