We’ve all heard of the work-life balance, a.k.a. “don’t sit in front of a computer for 50 years and not see all the cool shit outside of the office too.” You go to work, and then you hang out with friends who know nothing about your office other than your complaints about the heavy breather and obsession with the new cute coworker (and prayers that you don’t get reported to HR). Every once in a while, you find yourself in the twilight zone known as a work happy hour, where work and life intermingle and nothing is sacred. Mixing quality time with your boss and a handle of tequila is often a recipe for disaster. Here’s how to ensure you’ll still have a job (and your dignity) on Monday.
1. Stick to the office dress code.
This is not the time to show off your tramp stamp, midriff, upper thighs, or cleavage. The best way to approach an office happy hour is to act as though this is not your only outlet or social activity planned for that week. It’s not your one chance to break out the stilettos, so you shouldn’t be putting additional thought into your outfit for the evening. Take off your blazer, maybe – but don’t you dare unbutton a thing.
This is also not the time to attempt to get numbers, give your number, or do anything remotely sexual. Wanna kindle a little inter-office romance with the IT guy? Ask him out in a completely non-work environment. Do not wear a low-cut top and “seductively” glare at him all night at the work happy hour.
2. Buy your coworkers drinks.
While it’s essential to keep it PG in dress, that doesn’t mean that you should be a Debbie Downer all night. Have fun, and do your best to make sure everyone else is doing the same. People remember how you make them feel, so buying coworkers a round of drinks is an easy way to make a positive impression. Think of it this way: instead of spending $50 on five drinks for yourself, spend it on a drink for five of your officemates. That way they’re stoked, and you’re not blacked out. It’s a win-win.
A common mistake that results from this practice is engaging in too many rounds of drink-buying. If you buy everyone a round, then each person in that round will want to buy you a drink in return. This might sound awesome, but 99% of the time it results in lost sobriety, reputations, and jobs. Accept a drink or two, but beyond that, suggest that they buy someone else the drink – a new coworker who’s a bit shy, or that guy in HR who you should be on good terms with.
3. Drink. Slowly.
Maintaining the right level of drinking at an office happy hour is nearly as important as maintaining a work-life balance. You want to have a drink in your hand consistently, but don’t want to be drunk or constantly running to the bar for refills. There are a few ways to go about this. One way is to stick with drinks with low alcohol content, namely beer. Beer is great because it’s a lot of liquid (so it takes longer to drink), doesn’t immediately make you look like an alcoholic like ordering vodka on the rocks would, and is generally cheap. If beer isn’t your thing, stick with mom’s advice from college: alternate vodka sodas with water. This is literally the last place you want to drink too much.
4. Be fun.
Thank you, Captain Obvious, right? But this is harder than it sounds at a work function – and keep in mind that although it is a happy hour, it is still a work function. When out with your own friends, you’re free to tell stories about whomever you made out with last weekend, what your cat threw up on this week, and whom you farted in front of. Depending on your office, this is probably not the case with work friends. Have a few stories stockpiled that are equal parts funny, appropriate, and self-demeaning. Did you fall in front of a huge group of people while running for the bus last week? Attempt to Skype with a grandparent? Perfect. You’ll be a source of humor, stand out from the other people who are still only talking about work, and not be embarrassed that you admitted something a little too personal to your entire office.
5. Leave early.
No matter how well behaved you are (or aren’t), there always comes a time where the office happy hour should’ve ended… but didn’t. No one really needed that additional round of margarita pitchers/Fireball shots/vodka tonics, but alas, they arrived. You might be responsibly buzzed. You might be blacked out. And you’re absolutely going to want to stay to witness the shenanigans that will undoubtedly ensue. But you must leave early. Staying results in at least one of two situations: you witness something that you’ll never be able to forget, or you will do something that nobody will ever forget. Neither option is a good one.
Next time the big boss calls for some team bonding over whiskey sours, step up to the plate. Successfully making it through an office happy hour can be the difference between being that creepy dude who sits next to the printer, and turning coworkers into friends.