Drinking With Coworkers: Nightmare or Night to Remember?

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

To drink nor not to drink? A look at the benefits and downsides of mixing booze and work - plus advice on how to approach it.

It won’t be long until the season of office holiday parties is upon us, something that often inspires as much trepidation as excitement among workers.

Why? Because it brings with it the minefield that is drinking with colleagues. Whether or not to drink with colleagues is a tricky question.

I have worked at some companies where it was the norm to have a drink together at least once a week and at others where we rarely, if ever, saw each other outside of the office.

For some, it is a natural way to bond with people that you probably spend more time with than your significant other. For others, that time is already more than enough. And there is also the question of behaviour, of course. Alcohol can often lead to situations that would be merely embarrassing in private life but are devastating to a career.

Related Article: Overcoming Your Plateau in One Happy Hour Conversation

As an example of how drinking with coworkers can be a good thing, here is a story from my own life. A few years ago, I moved not just to a new city but to a new country to start a job. The first week after I got there, I wondered if I had made the right choice. I barely spoke to anyone and wasn’t invited to any lunches. At the end of that week, it was the company’s Christmas party. There, when the alcohol was flowing, my colleagues and I finally opened up to each other and began friendships which have lasted to this day.

On the other hand, at the same party, I was told the story of someone who, the year before, had undressed and danced atop the DJ booth. Needless to say, that person wasn’t working at the company by the time I got there.

With one-fifth of office workers drinking with colleagues at least once a month, according to a CareerBuilder survey, it’s not a topic that is going anywhere soon. In this, as in most things, moderation is key. It’s not only making a fool of yourself through drinking that can hurt your career. Refusing to drink with them at all can, too.

Consistently saying no to after-work meetups can isolate you, giving the impression that you’re not a team player. Most likely because the same survey found that 82 percent of office workers said that they go to bond with coworkers.

That’s definitely something you don’t want to miss out on, but you still need to be careful. After all, you don’t want to be the person dancing on the DJ booth in a state of undress. Let’s assume you’ve accepted the invitation. What do you do next?

It’s important to remember why you’re there. A bar and a couple of drinks is just the setting, not an end in themselves. Focus on getting to know people you don’t get to spend much time with in the office, rather than on making the most of happy hour deals.

Instead, concentrate on these fundamentals.

Make It a Night to Remember:

  • Let your guard down (just a little bit).
  • Discuss something other than work.
  • Buy a round (but don’t participate in too many just to “get your money’s worth”).

Avoid a Nightmare:

  • Put your phone away.
  • Forget about flirting.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
  • Know when to stop.
  • Never drink and drive.

Related Article: Make the Dream Work: 12 Proven Tactics For Building a Better Team

Let Your Guard Down

You won’t be able to really bond with your colleagues if you don’t relax a bit. This can be as literal as taking off your tie. For many people, judging just how far to let loose is the difficult part of after-work drinks. It’s a fine line, but it can be trodden.

Discuss Something Other Than Work

I know. It’s hard to leave the safe ground offered by professional topics, but the best way to bond with someone is generally over a shared interest. If you don’t leave off rehashing that morning’s meeting, you might never find out that you’re both really into the same TV show, sports team, obscure pastime, etc.

Buy a Round

Buying a round of drinks automatically generates goodwill. That said, only do this if it’s the norm among your colleagues. While some people like the camaraderie of buying rounds, others find it involves too much pressure to drink the same amount and at the same speed as everyone else. So play it by ear on this front.

Put Your Phone Away

You’re there to get to know the people you work with. How can you do that if you never look up from your phone? Even if it’s work related, let it wait. Your colleagues will appreciate getting your full attention.

Forget About Flirting

Just no. Even if it goes well, it still makes you a subject of office gossip. If it goes badly, you can poison the atmosphere at your job. It’s just not worth it.

Don’t Drink on an Empty Stomach

If you know about it in advance, it may be worth preparing a sandwich or snack to have before heading to the bar. If it’s spontaneous, see if the bar offers anything to eat or nibble on. My personal favourite: pretzel sticks.

Know When to Stop

This should go without saying but somehow, it doesn’t. Understand when enough is enough and then don’t give in to temptation or peer pressure.

Related Article: Have Friends, Will Succeed: How Your Private Life Affects You at Work

Never Drink and Drive

Do I even need to tell you this? Take a bus, subway, taxi, tram, rickshaw, anything. Just don’t drive when you’ve been drinking.

While mixing work and booze can lead to a night to remember or to a nightmare, it’s up to you to decide which. If you take this advice on board and manage to keep your head, enjoying a drink with your coworkers can be a really rewarding experience. It can deepen relationships and improve the atmosphere in the office.

So, here's to those relationships. Cheers!

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