13 December 2022

In defence of the boozy Christmas party (by a reformed teetotaller)


As someone who used to be teetotal, I can think of very few things that would have been more likely to alienate me from my employer and my colleagues than if the office Christmas party was made drink-free in a bid to make me feel included.

(My demands were much more reasonable: that the organisers ensured there was a decent non-alcoholic option, rather than the room temperature orange juice that is too often left out as a token offering to the dry.)

Happily, I was never put in the position; had I been, I would assuredly have found some clashing engagement, and informed the party planning committee of it in time for them to get the drinks in. My heart goes out, therefore, to the poor sober civil servant whose team, according to the Daily Telegraph, is apparently looking for a dry restaurant for their Christmas outing.

Whilst this is purportedly being done for their benefit, I think the odds are vanishingly small that they actually asked for it, just as there are surely very few religious workers who, not observing Christmas themselves, actually demand their employer take down Christmas trees, or avoid calling the end-of-year festivities “Christmas parties”, or any of the other nonsense that bubbles up from the Civil Service from time to time.

More often than not, this sort of stuff originates not from the alleged beneficiaries, but from other people – very often those whose career depends upon endlessly finding new demand for such things as ‘faith and belief toolkits’.

It is often deeply counter-productive. One of the benefits of working in an office is the opportunity for socialising with colleagues. The best way to ensure that everybody has the chance to enjoy that benefit is for employers to lay on a programme of parties and social events, as many do.

But if this sort of activity is bent wildly out of shape, or even withdrawn altogether, to protect the (largely imagined) tender feelings of non-drinkers, non-Christians, or whoever else, the most likely outcome is that such events will instead be organised informally, and without them.

Being teetotal didn’t stop me going to the pub with my colleagues after work. But if some well-meaning meddler had insisted that we all go somewhere else on my account, it would have been a very different story.

Of course, I am probably not describing everyone. Perhaps there are real, puritan non-drinkers who’d be perfectly happy to suborn their workmates’ leisure to their own preferences, or religiously-intolerant people who lack the grace either to attend an office Christmas party or to simply go home.

But it should scarcely need saying that those are not people to whom organisations should be pandering! It is too easy, when a group or organisation is run by people pleasers or the self-consciously ‘inclusive’, for the intolerant tail to wag the easy-going dog. But the world is a big place with a lot of people in it, and it is impossible to include everyone all the time.

Reasonable accommodation is all well and good (mine was a Coke Zero with ice, please), but there should be no pandering to a tiny, entitled and illiberal minority – not least because they seem to exist more often than not in the imagination of human resources professionals, and the results just make the majority of real, easy-going teetotallers look bad.

As with the recent case of civil servants being instructed not to use the words ‘women and girls’, it’s important to note that none of this killjoy stuff seems to be an official edict from the top. Rather, it is once again what happens when you legally mandate an organisation to employ a large cohort of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) staff, and then leave them to make work for themselves.

If the Conservatives did want to do something about this – and as ever, that’s a big if – then the solution is not to start playing whack-a-mole with every ill-judged memo that issues from departmental HR departments, but to take a serious look at the legislation and structures that lead to such memos getting written.

But since the Tories have let the Equality Act sit untroubled on the statute book since 2010, there seems little prospect of that.

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Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.