Here’s How To Make the Office Holiday Party Recovery-Friendly

Four ways to make your holiday party more inviting to employees who are in recovery, according to the Society for Human Resource Management

December 7, 2023
Laptop near a Christmas tree

This month, companies are hosting their annual holiday parties, and many will have more folks attending than in any year since 2019. At the same time, more and more employers are seeking to create healthy and comfortable workplaces for employees in recovery from substance use disorders.

What does that look like for the holiday festivities? The workplace experts from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) put together this guide to keeping things jolly for all.


About 22.3 million Americans — more than 9% of adults — live in recovery after some form of substance use disorder, according to a peer-reviewed study published last year by the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“While many have long awaited the opportunity to gather in person with coworkers to celebrate the holidays once again, it’s important for those who are planning holiday celebrations to be aware of the significant increases in those reporting substance abuse issues since the pandemic, and to create an event everyone can enjoy and where everyone feels safe,” said Barbie Winterbottom, CEO of the Business of HR, a consulting firm based in Tampa, Florida. “Creating an event that is psychologically safe and inclusive is critically important for all employees to feel a sense of belonging.”

Here are four ways to make the office holiday party more inviting to employees who are in recovery or trying to cut back on their alcohol consumption.

1) Make the event about more than just drinking.

Create an event that employees can enjoy even if they’re not drinking, said Ashley Loeb Blassingame, cofounder and chief people officer of Lionrock Recovery, an online substance use counseling service based in Petaluma, California.

“Make sure the whole premise of the party isn’t based on consumption of alcohol,” she said. Find an activity that gets everyone engaged and talking. Possible ideas include cookie decorating, games and contests, or attending a concert or sporting event.

An office-wide gift exchange is a fun activity that involves everyone, but be sure to set ground rules ahead of time by letting people know that no alcohol or substance-related gifts are allowed, said Lisa Blanchard, chief clinical officer at Spectrum Health Systems in Worcester, Massachusetts.

2) Put mocktails on the menu.

The event invitation should clearly state that alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages will be available, so employees know they will have options, Winterbottom said.

Rather than having only soda and juice available as alternatives to alcoholic drinks, be more creative and offer nonalcoholic beer and mocktails. “Present the nonalcoholic option as equal,” said Casey Davidson, a Seattle-based life and sobriety coach and owner of Hello Someday Coaching.

For instance, place the nonalcoholic options on the bar along with wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks being served. If waiters are passing around trays of drinks, make sure there are nonalcoholic options on that tray, she said. If there’s a seated dinner, avoid having wine glasses on the table waiting to be filled by waiters, because to say no, an employee would have to put a hand over the glass and ask the waiter not to fill it.

“The sober curious movement is growing, and lots of people are struggling with their alcohol consumption, so it’s important to normalize not drinking,” Davidson said.

3) Consider having a daytime event.

Many holiday parties tend to be after work or on the weekends, and that timing is often associated with drinking. “Consider a brunch or lunch party where it wouldn’t be appropriate for drinking, as the staff will need to get back to work after,” said Nicole Lacherza-Drew, Psy.D., owner of Vici Psychological Care, LLC, in Denville, New Jersey.

4) Keep the celebration optional.

Some employees may not want to celebrate the holidays at all, so be sure to keep holiday celebrations optional. “Remind employees that it is their choice whether or not to participate, and company leadership should make it clear that attendance is optional,” said Star Carter, cofounder, chief operating officer and general counsel at Kanarys Inc., a Dallas-based software firm that focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion data.

Also, make it easy for employees to leave the party when they’re ready. For instance, don’t require employees to stay until after the CEO makes a toast, Turner said. “Allow employees to make an individual choice in how they will navigate the holiday party.”

Source: the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This article is reprinted from shrm.org with permission from SHRM. Copyright 2023, SHRM. All rights reserved.

As the voice of all things work, workers and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces. With 300,000-plus HR and business executive members in 165 countries, SHRM impacts the lives of more than 115 million workers and families globally.

Link to the original article at SHRM: Here’s How Managers Can Make the Office Holiday Party Recovery-Friendly.

More Relaunch

Don Fertman

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 2: A Day in the Life

Don Fertman woke up one morning 40 years ago and poured himself a drink, as usual. But the future Subway exec didn't know this day would be far from ordinary.

Don Fertman

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 1: With a Little Help From My Friends

Don Fertman, longtime Subway exec, writes about a pivotal moment in his 40 years of sobriety: what happened after he went public about his recovery on "Undercover Boss."

Man and woman at break room table with coffee

How Can I Be a Sober Ally in the Workplace?

You're not in addiction recovery, but you want to show up for people who are. Great! Here's what that looks like at the office.

Woman and man with coffee standing by the water cooler at work

Is Alcohol Big in Your Work Culture? Here's How To Sidestep — Or Talk About It

The "Mad Men" era may be over, but some workplaces can still be particularly challenging in recovery. Some pointers on putting your sobriety first.

Two women talking in a garden

Your Guide To Hanging Out and Making Friends in College — Sober

Doing college sans drugs and alcohol doesn't have to be a struggle. Some tips on making bonds that'll last and having a blast.

Men and women in a recovery-friendly workplace

The Benefits of a Recovery-Friendly Workplace

Also called a "recovery-ready workplace," it's a winning proposition for high-quality employers and employees alike.

Smiling sober female college student holding books

10 Top Colleges for Recovery — And Sober Adventure

Recovery residences, specialized counselors, sub-free tailgates and … sober study abroad?! The sober college experience today is better than ever. These universities are showing the way.

Two construction workers

What Is a Recovery-Friendly Workplace?

And how can I create one at my company? Here's why and how implementing a work-life recovery program pays off.

New Report

Close