Career Advice for Job Seekers

Eat, Drink, and Stay Professional at Office Events

William Frierson AvatarWilliam Frierson
February 24, 2015

Sarah Landrum photo

Sarah Landrum

I’m sure you can think of at least one story, involving you or someone else, in which an employee had one too many drinks at a company function and was the subject of a great deal of gossip afterwards.

It can be hard to know whether or not it’s cool to knock one back at a work party, especially if you’re new to that particular business or are fresh out of college, where drinking at social events was the norm. Some work cultures are more laid back than others, and you may feel pressured to have at least one beer or glass of wine at a company event.

This can be a huge problem for some of us who tend to make some not-so-great decisions when we drink. While embarrassing moments make for great stories in college, they can have negative implications on your career.

If you want to avoid long-term negative consequences, here are some tips to follow during your next office fete:

Have an Honest Conversation With Yourself Beforehand

To drink or not to drink? That is the question, and it is one you should ask yourself before you even get to the party. Before any work-related event where alcohol is served, you should have an honest conversation with yourself and decide 1) if you’re going to drink 2) what you will drink 3) how much you will drink. Answering these questions, and making firm decisions regarding your drinking, beforehand will help you resist the temptation once there and faced with the delicious – and free- cocktails.

To help you decide you should consider each of these factors.

  • Company Culture. You probably already have a good feel for the type of company you’re working with. Is it a fun corporate culture that has a work-hard-play-hard attitude or is it a stuffy no-nonsense type of company? Get to know your company culture before you decide to reveal your under-the-influence self.
  • Employee Behavior. Do your successful coworkers or bosses throw them back like you’re at a college party? Or do they opt for a lemonade instead? Observe what others in the company are doing and the atmosphere of the party before making any rash decisions.
  • Your Reaction to Alcohol. What’s your tolerance like? What effect does alcohol have on you? If you get silly and start getting a little too friendly after one or two drinks, it’s probably best to stick to the punch. Same goes if you get sick easily or have trouble limiting yourself. Be sure to find out what alcohol does to your body and how you react before the party.
  • Your Temptations. If you’re a beer connoisseur and truly enjoy a good brew, go ahead and try the IPA your boss is raving about. If you’re only drinking to decrease your anxiety of being at the event or to keep up with the cool kids at work, it’s most likely not in your best interests to start tossing them back.

Take an introspective look at each factor and decide whether or not steps must be taken in order to avoid drinking outright or if you simply need to proactively limit yourself.

If you feel comfortable drinking at the event and are confident you can handle yourself without damaging your reputation, great. To be safe, here are some tips to help you have a good time, without overdoing it.

1. Bring a Buddy Along

It may be possible to invite a guest to a work function, such as a significant other or roommate. Be sure to check in advance and ask your new friends at work what the norm is. Having a buddy can help you steer clear of the bar and give you emotional support that will keep you from feeling too nervous.

If you can’t bring a buddy with you, consider having a list of people that you can call in case you are in need of support or a ride home.

2. Make Sure You Eat

The amount of food you eat both before and while drinking can have a direct impact on how quickly your body absorbs alcohol. It’s highly recommended that before you drink alcoholic beverages, you have something to eat. Make sure the meal includes something high in protein.

Remember that your liver will only be able to process one drink within an hour, so make sure you hold off on a refill for at least that long, occupying yourself with food or conversation in the meantime. If you are sensible about your food to alcohol ratio, it may go a long way towards keeping you from getting drunk.

3. Avoid Liquid Courage

It’s true that alcohol lowers one’s inhibitions and make you feel braver, but those lowered inhibitions can lead to serious social and work consequences if you have too much to drink.

You may find yourself brave enough to flirt with your boss … in front of his wife. You may find yourself brave enough to curse at the co-worker who knowingly stole your stapler. You may think it’s a good idea to use the copy machine to make copies of your naked rear, and then share them. Don’t go there… just, don’t.

Instead, think of a few work-appropriate jokes and stories to share, or make it a goal to introduce yourself to a set number of individuals. If networking, try to make it a goal to exchange contact information as well.

4. Have a Preplanned Limit

As shared earlier, the body can only absorb so much alcohol within a small amount of time. If you are worried about making a good impression in a drink-friendly environment, simply plan to only drink one or two beers or have a couple of glasses of wine.

Keep that glass with you and if anyone asks if you want a refill, politely decline. Stick with the limit you set and don’t be tempted by rowdy coworkers. It’s best not to risk your professional reputation for another drink – and it’s perfectly okay to tell your coworkers that if they’re pressuring you to drink more.

5. Request a Cutoff

If for whatever reason you’re worried about an inability to limit yourself, you can always take it up with whoever is in charge of the alcohol.

If the work event has a bartender or the party planner is in charge of the alcohol, let him or her know beforehand that you wish to be cut off after a couple of drinks. If this person instead insists that you’ll be fine and even pressures you to drink more than you wish to, you may have to rely on a trustworthy coworker or a friend.

6. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead to find alternate means of transportation is one of the best decisions you can make if you’re going to be drinking at company events. If you live close to coworkers, arrange a carpool and have someone be the designated driver. Or, check out the local modes of public transportation to see what times they’re available and how far away the stops are. Be sure to have the numbers of local taxi services ahead of time as well in case other plans fall through.

If you have to drive yourself home later, it’s best to pass on the drinking. With the very real risks associated with drunk driving, you may want to avoid drinking at all if you need to get behind the wheel. At the very least stop drinking a couple hours before the event is over to make sure the alcohol is out of your bloodstream.

7. Stick to Sober Activities

If you are seriously worried about your actions after a couple drinks, try to stick to the activities and events that don’t include drinking. When you find activities you enjoy that don’t revolve around drinking, it’s even possible to enjoy sobriety in today’s pro-alcohol society.

Games are a great example of fun sober activities you may find at a work event, but there are plenty more. Ask around ahead of time to see what’s planned for the evening or even suggest some fun things to do that can distract you from the bar. When you get to the event, explore the crowd a little to find others who are staying sober and engage in conversation with them.

It can be even harder to navigate work-related parties than your high-pressure workday. Never assume that who you are sober is far less interesting than who you are with a beer in hand. Also, keep in mind that although some cultures encourage workers to drink, alcohol is hardly the most important part of your job or how you relate to your peers. Never let any job or employer make you feel bad about yourself if you simply prefer not to drink at work-related events.

As long as you drink responsibly and follow these tips, you can have a great time without damaging your professional reputation. (Or waking up wondering what the heck happened last night.)

Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to helping others find happiness and success in their careers and live life to the fullest. Follow her for more great tips @SarahLandrum

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