The Do’s and Don’ts of Drinking at the Office

group of four friends clinking alcoholic beverages

The do’s and don’ts of drinking at the office can be blurry. | iStock.com

Let’s preface this article by saying this is not referring to hardcore, illicit drinking. We’re not filming an episode of Mad Men, and you’re not trying to mask pain with drunkenness (at least outwardly). This is about the rules of drinking during office meetings, with your boss, at holiday parties, and more.

Companies, including Yelp, Google, and almost every Ad agency in New York, offer alcoholic perks to their employees — and for good reason. Research shows employees with alcohol in their systems work faster and are better problem solvers than their sober counterparts. But before you make a case about working drunk, know these benefits don’t apply to the flat-out intoxicated. The key is to meet somewhere in the middle.

As a result of this research, more companies are attempting to attract millennial employees with office bars and casual work environments. But there are still guidelines every professional should consider. Keep reading the do’s and don’ts you should follow when drinking at the office.

Do: Have a bit of fun

"Party Down" actors

The Party Down cast has fun. | Starz

Office parties — the good ones at least ­– are hosted for this very reason. They want you to let your hair down and enjoy time with your co-workers, talking about baseball rather than deliverables. Allow yourself to clear your mind and recharge during these instances. Heck, be the one to break the ice and sing karaoke. Who doesn’t love a rousing rendition of “Stayin’ Alive”?

But know the rules. Human Resources usually establishes these extracurricular guidelines in advance, and employees should know where to draw the line, as a result. If your company supports happy hours outside of work hours only, don’t pop a top at 4:30 p.m. while simultaneously closing your email browser at your desk.

Don’t: Forgo all sense of responsibility and professional demeanor

Half a beer can be the difference between carefree and careless. So, by all means, belly up to the bar with your supervisor, but avoid going shot for shot with Tina and Tim. Singing karaoke is great, but performing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as your opener would be the wrong choice. Bosses appreciate fun co-workers who can also keep their cool.

Do: Pour yourself a drink

whiskey drink

A whiskey drink might be a little much for a work event. | iStock.com

Do this enthusiastically but with restraint. For example, if going for hard liquor, pour a modest two fingers. This is not a college frat party. Yes, you could down that beer in three gulps, but the wise choice would be to slip slowly and intently. In addition, mind your manners. Wait to drink until everyone has one in front of them. It’s kind of like playing cards: You don’t look at your hand until the dealer finishes dealing. It’s common card and drinking etiquette.

Don’t: Drink more than your boss

Not sure how much drinking is socially acceptable? A good rule of thumb is to watch your boss, and use his or her habits as a guide. Sometimes your boss takes the team to dinner. Should you order that expensive whiskey, or stick to a beer on tap? Etiquette would say to let your boss order first, and then make your choice accordingly. If your boss has a few drinks at the party, have one fewer instead of one more to be on the safe side.

Do: Acknowledge perception

The Hangover Part II actors

Don’t be like the guys from The Hangover II. | Warner Bros.

Even if your tolerance is higher than most, consider how it would look if you were steadily knocking back gin and tonics without hesitation. It’s all about perception when drinking at the office. Be mindful that your every action is being judged at all times, especially in a social setting. Other co-workers will be watching to see how Suzy handles her liquor or how Jim acts surrounded by a crowd. If you’re unsure how to proceed, a general parameter is one drink per hour.

Don’t: Let your guard down

Just because you’re no longer confined to an office environment doesn’t mean you should let your guard down completely. Cameras are everywhere today, and people are primed and ready to record a moment of weakness in a heartbeat. Remember your level of fun will end up on social media in some way. Do everything you can to ensure a G-rated group shot ends up on Facebook, rather than your attempt at 8 seconds on a mechanical bull. You’ve worked hard to create a respectable reputation at the office, so don’t let one night send it down the drain.

Do: Chat it up

Dwight and Jim from The Office

The Office co-workers chat. | NBC

Networking with your professional circle is often easier with a drink in your hand. So be social. Talk about something other than deadlines. Maybe even make plans to go see an upcoming live show with your team. That’s what these outings are for.

Heck, if your company is like Blood, Sweat & Cheers, now part of Greatist, you might conduct your business meetings with beers on the table. Their CEO says it leads to more a productive and enjoyable meeting. In this case, allow your slight liquid courage help you dish your creative idea you’ve been holding for weeks.

Don’t: Word vomit

That liquid courage could be damaging. No amount of beer condones office gossip or inappropriate remarks. Refer back to your elementary school training, and refrain from speaking if you have nothing nice to say at all. If this casual environment prompts you to open up about a funny email typo you sent to your boss, great. But if you feel the urge to whine about your recent divorce or complain about Jane’s gross nail-biting habit, please don’t. Your sober self will thank you in the morning.

Do: Bring a date

Couple enjoying drinks on a date

Choose your dates wisely. | iStock.com/Carlos Davila

We spend most of our adult lives with our co-workers. So it’s only natural to want them to know the real you. If the situation allows, definitely bring your special someone along, and don’t be shy to introduce them. Bringing a plus-one to your office party or company celebrations is OK. In fact, it’s probably encouraged during holiday season. But some office occasions are employee-only. Make sure you check with others to see whether they’re bringing dates, and if so, chose someone you’re positive won’t embarrass you.

Don’t: Bring a train wreck

Do not bring someone just to bring someone. This is not the time or place for first dates or wing men and women. Your ride-or-die BFF might be the perfect partner for a Saturday night on the town, but the Friday afternoon office wind-down at the local pub is not that kind of event. Know this: Your date’s behavior — good and bad — will reflect upon you.

Do: Wear something festive

holiday office party

Be mindful of your wardrobe. | iStock.com

If hangouts are happening outside normal work hours or on the weekend, have fun with your outfits. The office Christmas party definitely calls for a festive tie or jolly elf bells around your neck. But don’t push it. Sparkles, sequins, and crazy socks are wonderful, but try to maintain some semblance of an appropriate workplace wardrobe.

Don’t: Risk an inappropriate malfunction

This is not a singles bar, and you are not “in da club.” Office parties do not call for a sexy Santa suit or “Let’s get Shamrocked!” T-shirt on St. Patrick’s Day. They’re still talking about Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl, so what makes you think your work buddies won’t remember your unfortunate Valentine’s Day mishap from four years ago? What will the lighting be like? Is a thin white shirt or dress your best option? These are some things to think about when choosing your party attire.

Do: Take the opportunity to network

Friends enjoy night out

Take advantage of a networking opportunity. | iStock.com

Business deals are often decided over drinks, and networking events tend to occur after hours. For most of us, liquid courage is the only reason you have the gull to approach that group across the room in the first place. When potential business contacts invite you out, say yes. Don’t waste time thinking about the what-ifs.

Don’t: Succumb to peer pressure

However, the rise of the office drinking culture doesn’t mean you must partake in said drinking. If alcohol isn’t your thing, order a soda. Yes, business deals can be made over drinks, but that’s often just the backdrop for engaging in casual conversations that seal the deal.

Do: Take advantage of the perk

man hold beer

Be cautious when drinking at the office. | iStock.com

You are an adult, so you should act accordingly. Many managers are providing fridges full of drinks because they understand workplace stress. Feel free to forget the stress, alleviate the pressures, and forgo the office politics for the time being. But don’t make a habit of this. Let’s be clear. This drinking at the office perk has one common denominator: a group setting. When you start breaking out the hard liquor alone at your desk at 2 p.m., you’ve taken it too far.

Don’t: Ruin it for everyone

Clearing your mind can be done with one or two drinks. It doesn’t take much. So excess drinking that borders on alcohol dependence — or worse, abuse — will quickly ruin this trend for you and the rest of your well-balanced co-workers. Being known as a “work hard, play hard” employee might be helpful when climbing the social ladder. But it can also lead to long-term effects, such as poor health, a damaged reputation, and job loss.

Do: Make a graceful exit

Taxis on Seventh Avenue at Times Square

Call a cab to get home safely. | iStock.com/batuhanozdel

Know your limits. When it’s time to go, leave. Right away. If you’re questioning whether you can get home safely, call a cab. Explaining your DUI or why you were sleeping it off in the parking lot is a lot harder the next morning, so it’s best never to put yourself in that situation.

Don’t: Make a memorable exit

We all have the friend, or co-worker, who just doesn’t know when to quit. One drink leads to another, and suddenly they’re dancing on the bar to “Devil Went Down to Georgia” like they work at Coyote Ugly. Don’t be that person. Make any excuse you can to get out of there and save face. You have to feed the dog, charge your phone, or visit Grandma at the nursing home. Whatever it is, just think of something. It’s always better to disappear silently than to close down the bar and have to explain your questionable ways in the morning.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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