There’s no season better than summer to slip out of work at 5 and head to the nearest bar with your co-workers for happy hour. The lazy, warm evenings can be a much better setting to enjoy a drink or two with your teammates than the awkward, cold Christmas party that’s six months away. Outings with your co-workers, and even your boss, can build camaraderie and help you get to know people past the projects on their desk in the office. But those happy hours can also be your undoing, at least if you go too far and wind up the butt of office jokes. Nothing will tarnish your reputation faster than going too hard in the bar and showing up late (or not at all) the next morning.
Drinking with co-workers is fairly common, according to a survey from a few years ago conducted by CareerBuilder. One in five employees told CareerBuilder they attended a happy hour event with co-workers at least once a month, with 82% of those people saying they went to bond with their teammates, and 11% said they went to get to know their boss better. But these events can be fraught with error: 16% admitted to trash talking a co-worker or manager while there, 10% said they shared an office secret, and 8% said they kissed one of their co-workers in the midst of the bar haze.
There’s some research that suggests drinking — even a lot — can help you move up the social and professional ladders at work. But conventional wisdom still says that moderation is probably your best bet. This isn’t the time to relive your college beer pong glory days. Still, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a drink with co-workers without becoming “that guy” who your officemates can’t take anywhere. Here’s six tips for mastering the after-work trip to the watering hole.
Don’t limit your social options at the office just because you’re not sure what the best protocol is. Even if you’d prefer to not drink (whether for personal, religious, or other reasons), there’s nothing stopping you from getting a lime and tonic and fitting right in, alcohol or not. Even though most people try to leave work back at the office, discussing new ideas or working on old issues is likely inevitable. “The casual atmosphere will likely lead all attendees to get to know each other better, on a more personal level, which could actually help advance careers. Those who aren’t in attendance could miss a discussion that leads to a big project involving those who were there,” Forbes advises.
Plus, Forbes writes, constantly rejecting offers to go out and have a drink will give people the impression you’re not a team player. If you’re rejecting your boss’ invitations, it will seem like you have little interest in getting to know your co-workers — a sign you’re not invested in the job. To avoid all that, make yourself free for a night or two.
2. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink
If you’re in a bar, at least a few of your co-workers are ready to wind down after a day in the office and have a drink. It’s OK if you do, too. Primer author Justin Thompson advised that the general rule of thumb is no more than three beers or two hard liquor drinks while you’re out — unless your tolerance is less than that, of course. You don’t want to seem like a descendant of the Puritans while you’re there, so it’s all in your attitude. Remain cool if you’re just having a soda, but ordering a beer or another drink is fine — bars do serve that purpose, after all.
Thompson also suggests picking your drink and sticking with it. Beer is fine, but if you’re not into hops choose your drink and go with it for the night. Not only can this add to the cool factor of having a “usual,” but it also will help with your recovery for the next morning. If you’re not mixing gin and rum and beer and wine and vodka, and instead stick with one cocktail or drink on the rocks, your body will thank you the next day. (If you’re not sure what to order, we’ve got plenty of suggestions.)
3. Don’t discuss your problems
No matter how much your noisy neighbor is pissing you off with 3 a.m. jam sessions and your cubicle mate (who’s not there) stinks up the office with their smelly fish lunches, happy hours are not meant to turn into grumpy eons of complaining. Keep your problems to yourself, whether they’re personal or professional. You don’t want to earn the reputation of the office gossip, and you definitely don’t want your whining to get back to the people you work with who passed on a night at the bar.
4. Don’t play follow the leader
If your boss is present, it might be a good idea to follow his or her lead on whether to order hard liquor. But that doesn’t mean following him glass for glass. This is a case where “when in Rome” doesn’t apply. Unless you’re drinking virgin Shirley Temples, chances are there’s always going to be at least one person in the group who’s more sober than you are. For his or her sake, keep yourself in check, even if your superiors are well into their martini dinner.
Thompson at Primer uses the mantra “have one less” instead of “have one more” when he’s in professional settings, and it will likely keep you in the right frame of mind for the night. Diane Gottsman, a nationally cited etiquette expert, writes that fun shouldn’t be your primary objective when drinking with co-workers. “Never make the mistake of thinking a work-sponsored happy hour is a chance to ‘let loose’ and ‘blow off some steam.’ Enjoy yourself, but don’t treat it like a get-together with your buddies,” she advises.
5. Bring cash
If this is a company-sponsored event, there’s maybe a 50-50 shot that you won’t have to cover your tab for the night. You could get lucky and have a boss who’s super generous. Even if you think that will be the case, make sure you’ve got a few bills in your wallet to pay for your drinks — and to split a cab ride home with some of your officemates, depending on how late you’re out. “You want to avoid being the rude co-worker who asks, ‘Um, does this place take cards?'” The Grindstone reminds us.
6. If you’re past your limit, get out of there
The best-case scenario to office drinks is knowing your limit ahead of time, and staying far away from that line. But if you can tell you’ve had one — or a few — too many, leave. Right away. Tell your boss to have a good evening, wish your co-workers well, and get a cab. It might be fun to shut the place down with the last co-workers standing, but now’s not the time or place. There are ways to save face when you’ve have too many, but it’s better if you can avoid that altogether.
“It’s better to miss out on the rest of the work happy hour than to stick around and make a fool out of yourself. Because, let’s be honest; if you end up dancing on a table after doing tequila shots with your ‘friend’ in marketing, your entire office will be talking about this for the duration of your employment,” The Grindstone writes. Say you forgot to feed your dog, or that you need to call your buddy. The beauty of happy hours is that they tend to happen again, so you’ll have another chance to see your co-workers out of the office. Don’t make them regret inviting you in the first place.
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS