To Drink or Not to Drink at Work Events?

Does Alcohol Drinking Mix Safely With Work Events?

Decide Before You Attend the Event. Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images

To drink or not to drink at work related events is a question almost every employee has to ponder for one occasion or another. Whether the business occasion is lunch during an interview, the company holiday party, or a staff networking event on Friday afternoon, alcohol is usually an option.

Make your decision about what to drink and how much to drink before you are faced with the choices at the event.

Set your limit before the event. This will help you resist the temptation to change your mind when you are actively attending the party.

I personally follow the rule of two glasses of wine over an evening, and this has always worked for me. Decide what will work for you.

In a recent survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), 501 Human Resources professionals were asked how drinking is viewed in their organization across a range of work-related activities. HR professionals reported that drinking is acceptable:

  • 70%: at a holiday party,
  • 40%: at a meal with a client or customer,
  • 32%: at a retirement party,
  • 28%: at the celebration of a company milestone,
  • 22%: at a meal with a coworker,
  • 4%: at a meal during a job interview, and
  • 14%: never.

Each employee needs to know their own organization and how acceptable behavior is defined to make the decision about whether to drink alcohol at company events.

The Alcohol Decision

Take these factors into consideration when you make your decision about drinking at a company event or activity.

  • Take your first cue from your company culture and the behavior of your coworkers. Do successful employees, managers, and executives drink alcohol at company events? If so, having a couple of drinks is fine. At a client company, the weekly happy hour on Friday is deliberately called 2Beer Friday to send an important message that drinking too much is unacceptable with coworkers and while driving.
  • Take your second cue from your knowledge of yourself and the affect of alcohol on your actions. Does one drink make you giggly? Do two drinks make you slur your words or lower your guard and chatter excessively? Does alcohol make you sick or feeling as if you have an upset tummy? If so, you may not want to drink alcohol at company events.
  • If you are uncomfortable attending the event, for any reason, don't use alcohol to decrease your anxiety. This is a set up for a disaster, especially if you are not used to drinking alcohol. It's just as easy to carry water or a soft drink in your glass at the party and no one will know the difference unless you tell them - not that it's anyone's business but your own.

    This question comes across my email regularly, by the way. People wonder if coworkers are negative about employees who don't drink alcohol at company events. The answer depends a lot on your company culture.
  • As an individual, consider the effects of drinking too much on your relationships with your coworkers, your professional reputation, your manager’s ongoing regard, the office gossip mill, and your own view of yourself.

    You don't want to be the person who everyone is talking about the day after the party. And, know that your coworkers have long memories. You will hear about any gaffes you make again and again - and for years.

    Set your limit; stick with the limit you set. Don’t risk your professional reputation for a third or fourth drink at a company event.

    More: Make No Excuses.

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