Workplace Issues

Work Hard, Play Hard: What’s The Future of Office Happy Hours?

As employers have historically offered alcohol at work events, what’s stopping them from offering other newly legal substances, too?
Adam ZakiMarch 31, 2023
Work Hard, Play Hard: What’s The Future of Office Happy Hours?
Photo: Getty Images

From having a drink with a coworker after a long day, to the person that has one too many at the holiday party, most professionals have taken part in mixing work and play with an alcoholic beverage or two. The power dynamic between managers and employees mixed with alcohol could become awkward sometimes with employees feeling pressured to partake because their superiors are. 

With new laws allowing substances such as cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms to enter the recreational consumption space and companies becoming more desperate to retain and attract talent, the way organizations approach their company-sponsored happy hours may change — it could even push them to end the practice altogether

Moderation is Still Key

Companies like WeWork, the co-working office space provider, used free beer in the office as a marketing strategy to get people to perceive their workspaces as welcoming, hip, cool, and trendy. As a result, the company developed a “frat” like culture, having lawsuits filed against it which resulted in the elimination of free beer

Executives like Andy Goldman, CFO of Dormify, find that alcohol does have some positives in a corporate setting. According to him, it’s a matter of balance, maturity, and responsibility for both the employee and the company equally.

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  Andy Goldman

“For me, I think many people like to have a drink or two in social situations, so, I’m not opposed,” said Goldman. “The key is for individuals to control their intake, as I don’t think the company should be responsible for getting inebriated people home,” he said. “And, it looks terrible to others if you are smashed in general, but especially at a company function.”

Goldman also instructs executives who are putting together these kinds of events to offer non-alcoholic options. Food is also recommended. Whether it’s an effort to give non-drinkers a way to partake or to slow the effects of the alcohol on others, Goldman says just small plates alone are not ideal. “There must be food at events beyond appetizers,” he said. “People enjoy food in social situations as well.”

Cannabis’ Role

With the emergence of the cannabis industry providing lots of learning points for CFOs focusing on growth, development, strategy, and compliance, the de-stigmatization of cannabis isn’t making its way into corporate happy hours yet, cannabis experts told CFO.

“It is true that since the pandemic ended, there seems to be an increase of happy hour activities to foster networking and collaborations in and out of the office,” said Helene Blanchette, president of The Physicians Cannabinoid Council (PCC). With the emergence of new products that allow cannabis to be consumed without combustion or smoking, Blanchette says there’s still little argument to be made about the future of cannabis as an acceptable substance in a corporate happy hour setting.

“Can we see a day where [there are] bowls of gummies, catering of cookies and brownies or pizza containing THC, the compound of the plant that is intoxicating or psychoactive?” she asked. “If we look at states such as California that have legalized cannabis consumption since 1996 for medical and 2016 for adult recreational use, the phenomenon of workplace happy hours with cannabis has not openly manifested, and employees can still be fired for consuming cannabis at the workplace.”

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  Helene Blanchette

However, Blanchette suggested that some employees may be already indulging in cannabis during work under the radar, as its various forms make it much easier to conceal than alcohol. “[This] question is more complex, since cannabis comes in multiple forms, from gummies, capsules or tablets, tinctures, and other edible products, and can be consumed without anyone noticing it, hence it may very well be already consumed often at the workplace without anyone knowing,” she said. 

Booze Here to Stay, Cannabis TBD 

For those who are corporate veterans, a cocktail at an office luncheon, though rarer than it once was, is something that will most likely stick around. Michael Gibbs, CEO of Go Cloud Careers, an educational organization focused on cloud computing technologies, said that, unlike alcohol, the idea of offering cannabis in the workplace is a liability for an employer due to its federal legalization status, and doesn’t have the same dividends that alcohol can in the creation of a comfortable environment.

“We have been serving alcohol in the workplace for decades,” said Gibbs. “It’s typically offered with meals and it is used to provide a team-building experience. As leaders, we try to create a relaxed environment to allow bonding between teammates, workers, and management.”

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  Michael Gibbs 

Gibbs said cannabis should not be provided in the workplace and is not considered to be acceptable at a company-sponsored event. “Granted, marijuana can be consumed in edible forms but still has a negative connotation and is not common in the workplace,” he said. “[There is] a perception of marijuana as a drug as opposed to alcohol which is considered part of everyday life.” 

Gibbs believes the notion that marijuana is as acceptable as alcohol, and widely used, is overblown. He suggested that in Gallup polls, 60% of Americans drink alcohol compared to 16% of Americans who use cannabis. “So, for now, we don’t see employers offering marijuana in the workplace, but that may change in the future,” he said.