9 Tips From Sober Entrepreneurs on Recovery-Friendly Work Environments

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve had the honor and challenge of creating places people love to work. And I think, for the most part, I’ve done a decent job. However, it wasn’t until I began my own sobriety journey a few years ago that I fully recognized how prominently alcohol shows up in the workplace — even the ones I helped create.

As the world reopens, there’s been no shortage of discussion about the future of work. We’re talking about transforming the way companies approach office space, remote work, sick day policies, travel, and entertainment. The reopening of corporate America presents a long-overdue opportunity to revisit our workplace culture, and bring inclusion and employee wellbeing to the forefront. One way to do that? A more mindful approach to how alcohol shows up (and doesn’t!) in your workplace.

I had the honor of collaborating with Kelsey Moreira, CEO & Founder of Doughp, to put our ideas to paper. Kelsey has been sober for nearly 9 years since 2015, and has literally made mental health her business. In addition to creating seriously legit cookie dough, Doughp donates 1% of sales to She Recovers, and has created a company culture where mental health comes first. Here are our tips for a more sober-friendly office.

Kelsey Moreira, CEO & Founder of Doughp

  1. Educate about alcohol use disorder: Statistically, there are likely people in your own professional community who are struggling to manage their drinking. To be more inclusive of people navigating sobriety or moderation, whether that’s your employee base, or your customer base, it’s crucial to understand alcohol use disorder (AUD). For far too long, excessive alcohol use has been viewed as a moral failing instead of the medical condition it is. Leaders and decision-makers should familiarize themselves with the leading science about AUD, including what influences it, how it displays itself in individuals, and alcohol treatment options. This might require challenging your own biases about alcohol consumption. That’s part of the process.
  2. Swap out the keg: With your newfound knowledge about AUD, consider putting in a keg of kombucha in place of alcohol in the office. Putting alcohol at the front & center of events puts pressure on staff to cozy up to the bar or risk being left out of valuable team building and conversations with management that may be happening over a glass of whiskey. If you’re not willing to ditch the office booze entirely, consider aiming for a 1-to-1 ratio between alcoholic and non-alcoholic options: this includes non-alcoholic beers, wines, and spirits. You could even create your own alcohol-free cocktail inspired by Monument’s digital drinkbook, Delish AF. Options are plentiful, and everyone deserves a celebratory drink.
  3. Be a thoughtful event planner: Having a business dinner or event? Pick a restaurant with a thoughtful alcohol-free cocktail menu or ensure the caterer is asked to prepare a list of fun alternative drinks outside of just water. Let all of your employees, vendors, and clients feel comfortable ordering what suits them without fear of visual judgment or questions like “What’s wrong with you tonight?” and “Why aren’t you drinking?” Alcohol-free cocktails can be a great tool for creating a festive environment without pressure or judgment.
  4. Celebrate sober milestones just like other milestones: Encourage discussion around sobriety by celebrating milestones like sober birthdays in exactly the same manner as you do regular birthdays. If your employee or teammate made the decision to change their life for the better, that should 100% be celebrated, like running a marathon, or achieving a meaningful life milestone. Make them feel extra special with cookie dough and confetti in the Doughp Sober Birthday Box. And if you’re a product based company, consider launching a Sober celebration box as well! You’d be surprised with how many folks out there are looking for ways to celebrate this incredibly important milestone.

Kelsey Moreira, CEO & Founder of Doughp

  1. Provide resources to your workforce: It’s inspiring to see how companies are expanding their employee benefits beyond the traditional medical and dental. Wellness extends far beyond our physical wellbeing, and employee benefits and resources should reflect that. Check in with your benefits providers or EAP to see how you might offer online alcohol treatment as a benefit to your employees. You can also connect with the Monument partnerships team about sharing resources with your workforce by emailing partnerships@joinmonument.com.
  2. Mental Health Mondays: This practice has been a game-changer at Doughp as part of their Mental Health Policy. (Check out a template to implement in your company here!) Using Slack or another internal communication tool? Encourage conversation about the tough stuff in life by starting a Mental Health Monday channel and asking each employee to share one high and one low from the last week. This opens a more honest dialogue in the workplace and cultivates a deeper understanding of what’s happening in your employees’ lives. Remember: vulnerability starts at the top! Chime in each week and don’t hold back on your own shares. Also be sure to engage and show support when an employee also opens up. This will show your team it’s a safe place where they can bring their full selves to the office.
  3. Team building doesn’t require booze: If you’re sober, it can be uncomfortable to hear that the team building event this quarter is wine tasting in Napa. Most wineries don’t keep many N/A options on hand. Keep your whole team in mind when planning retreats and team building events. Encourage your team to get creative and help come up with ideas. Think outside the box: painting classes, museums, cooking classes, pottery, hiking. Team Monument’s favorite activities to date? Bowling, trivia, and an alcohol-free cocktail tasting. An added bonus is that your employees will form even more authentic connections, without the influence or potential negative effects of alcohol.
  4. Check in on your company communications: This one is two-fold. First, check in on how you converse with your employees. Next time you draft a company-wide announcement, ask yourself: how might this be received by someone struggling to manage their drinking right now? How about someone who is sober? Be mindful of your language. Let’s leave “Wine o’ Clock” (far, far) behind us. Second, proactively encourage people to reflect on their relationship with alcohol in a way that feels positive and encouraging. Invite speakers to talk about substance use disorders and recovery. Share resources in a wellness-specific newsletter. And if you’re comfortable, share your own story…
  5. Sober business leader? We’d love to hear from you! If you’re a sober business leader, we’d love to get in touch through social media (@doughp & @joinmonument) or via our contact emails. Sharing your story, to one person or thousands, helps break the stigma. Willing to share your story, and/or have ideas about how to create more sober-friendly offices? Let’s chat!

It’s been an honor learning from Kelsey about how she’s building a mental health-first culture at Doughp, and sharing her wisdom beyond her own office (or Zoom) walls. Sobriety is a superpower, and it’s our hope that business leaders recognize that, and embrace it in all facets of their company culture. It’s great for business, and great for your people. Here’s an alcohol-free cheers to that.

Mike Russell, CEO & Co-Founder of Monument

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Mike RussellMike Russell is the co-founder & CEO of Monument, an online treatment platform for those looking to change their relationship with alcohol. Mike is a member of the founding teams of Paintzen (Acquired by PPG Industries), Bombas, Zipdrug, and MyClean, four successful New York City technology startups still operating today. Mike is also a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor and has dedicated much of his time towards raising money to help children with cancer.