Office happy hours can be fun and social — but when meeting for drinks with coworkers, there are things all workers should keep in mind.
“Office happy hours are an opportunity to build relationships with peers, make a positive impression on your boss and encourage new friendships,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert with The Protocol School of Texas.
Especially in situations where people don’t know each other well, when employees are working remotely and when the boss is in another city, sharing a cocktail or a mock-tail with coworkers is a good opportunity to mingle, she said.
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“Consider it mandatory fun,” said Gottsman.
Although office happy hours can be beneficial for networking and socializing outside a work setting, job experts caution that you should keep a check on your actions, behavior and indulgences.
Here’s how and why.
While you want to let your hair down and relax, you are still on work duty to some degree, said Gottsman.
“Pace yourself so you don’t become office gossip the next day,” she warned.
“Your boss is observing your social skills and judgment.”
“The way you behave with coworkers is similar to how you will behave in social situations with clients — and your boss is observing your social skills and judgment.”
Alcohol is optional, she said.
“If you would prefer to have a non-alcoholic drink, no explanation is necessary,” said Gottsman. “Order a tonic or sparkling water, mix and mingle and make connections.”
“The key is to be interesting and interested in other people, so ask questions that are not work-related to get to know your peers on a more social level.”
Make sure to eat something first
If you are at a bar that’s serving BBQ — consider ordering the ribs.
In other words, make sure you’re not drinking on an empty stomach. That’s never a good idea, noted Gottsman.
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If you don’t want to order food, etiquette expert Pamela Eyring, founder of The Protocol School of Washington, suggested eating something compact like a protein bar.
“With all of the conversations to be enjoyed, there might not be time to eat the snacks provided,” Eyring said.
“Alcohol hits the bloodstream faster on an empty stomach, causing loss of judgment and even slurring,” she also said.
Use the buddy system
The expression “loose lips sink ships” has been around for a while — for a reason.
“Use the buddy system. Ask a close colleague to keep an eye on you, especially if you’ve been having a hard time personally or professionally,” suggested Eyring.
“You never know who you will work for one day.”
And give that person the same courtesy.
Mingle with colleagues, not just peers and pals
Happy hours are designed for socialization, so introduce yourself to colleagues you don’t know so that you can learn more about them.
“Avoid only speaking with peers who you’ve known for a long time or only socializing with the leadership team,” said Eyring.
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She added, “You never know who you will work for one day.”
Avoid becoming ‘instagrammable’
Although happy hours are outside the office, stick with a professional dress code.
“Do not wear anything that might tempt others to capture your attire for the world to see,” warned Wendy L. Patrick, JD, PhD, a business law lecturer at San Diego State University.
“Professional gatherings are not the place to showcase your inner flamboyance or creativity,” she added.
“They are also not the time to ‘try out’ a new unusual outfit.”
Mind your manners and conversations
It’s important to know that what you say at the watering hole will be repeated around the water cooler the next day, said Patrick — and likely get to your boss.
Don’t gossip or complain about coworkers, upper management or even clients.
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“Lewd, disrespectful, crass or otherwise inappropriate language is also memorable,” added Patrick — and problematic.
Keep your actions in check
Actions speak louder than words.
“Despite how much fun you are having, and how much you love the cover band’s rendition of your classic rock favorite, unless you are on the dance floor, keep your dancing shoes in check,” said Patrick.
“Remember that you are one cell phone click away from tap dancing your way to tarnishing your career,” Patrick warned.
“You earn respect by being consistent in your behaviors.”
In addition, resist the urge to flirt — and keep a handle on your body language.
Maintain a professional edge
By all means join the office gang for happy hour — but be certain to keep behaviors in check so that you’ll continue to be respected for the good job you do at work.
“You earn respect by being consistent in your behaviors — not overdrinking, being loud and obnoxious or rude,” said Eyring.
She advised that people mingle and focus on other colleagues and their interests, so that you’re seen in a positive light.
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Also, she said that if you act foolishly, it’s difficult to recover — and could take years to earn back the respect lost.
Ultimately, said Eyring, acting foolishly could impact your career within the organization, may hinder promotions or stand in the way of other job opportunities down the road.
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