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March 6, 2023
When Your Career Path Intersects With Alcohol – Let’s talk about getting drunk at aesthetic work conventions and business meetings –
So this is something I have been wanting to address for quite some time now. As a recruiter I have heard many times of candidates – placed employees – or candidates telling me about co workers that have ruined their image from getting plastered at work events.
First off I want to say that if you think this article is about you – maybe it is. Second off I am not perfect here. In fact I myself have had too much to drink at a conference. In fact I met my significant other at a conference on the free dinner and drinks night. We enjoyed too many glasses of wine that evening.
Here is what I want to talk about. I understand that getting sent to a business meeting away from home, usually in a great location enables us to let your guard down. Coworkers decide that after the event they may want to get a group together and visit a local bar, dance venue, club etc. Usually the decision to do this is after too many drinks at the work convention. You and a group of like minded individuals call an Uber or Lyft, pile in the car and proceed to travel to an off site location to finish your evening of partying.
It’s the next day that things get hairy. You are extremely hung over, you don’t make it down to the 8am breakfast meeting and sleep in. You have now just put yourself in the category of being a partier. You co workers that made it to the breakfast meeting start asking around and wondering where you are at. conversations come up about the events of last night and the condition you were in the last time they saw you. They start talking about the reps that all left the convention and went to said bar. Obviously the reps that did go out that are at the breakfast meeting feel good that they were able to control themselves and make it to the table. Then the buzz starts….10 am and still no word from the the missing rep. Managers start texting them “hey bud. where are you?” Still no word from the rep. The 10:30 break – one of your coworkers goes and knocks on the missing reps hotel room door. Taking way too long to answer, the rep finally comes to the door looking disheveled and confused. The coworker says “Hey our manager is looking for you!” the rep says ” oh man I am sick, I am not going to make it down, I’ll text him.”
Sound familiar? Listen there is a rule of thumb that you should never have more than two drinks at a work function. You are under extreme scrutiny here folks. You are being watched, & tested. When people drink they let their guard down – some say you become the real you when you are under the influence. I will confess, I was reminded of the “Open bar, dude!” scene from the movie Super Troopers. Knowing how you might be perceived as a potential employee or colleague is a murky area of professional development that can’t really be taught. It has to be learned by doing and sometimes by making mistakes. However, unfamiliarity with the unwritten rules of drinking at a professionally oriented event should not stop you from having a drink and enjoying a professional event — just as long as you present a professional appearance.
The Omnipresence of Alcohol
Nearly all social-professional interactions involve alcohol, and it will be difficult to attend a professional event where alcohol is not served. Business and networking culture have a long-standing tradition of happy hours, mixers or receptions. A Society for Human Resource Management survey asked 500 HR professionals how drinking is viewed in their organization across a range of work-related activities. Drinking was considered acceptable by the HR professionals in the following instances:
- 70 percent: at a holiday party
- 40 percent: at a meal with a client or customer
- 32 percent: at a retirement party
- 28 percent: at the celebration of a company milestone
- 22 percent: at a meal with a co-worker
- 4 percent: at a meal during a job interview
Fourteen percent said that drinking alcohol at a work-related event was never acceptable.
If you don’t drink, don’t assume it’s a disadvantage and avoid happy hours or cocktail receptions. You certainly should still attend events with alcohol, such as academic conferences, because in many case you will miss out on making connections. And if you skip a team outing, you could be seen as someone who doesn’t care about group camaraderie. Most people will be focused on their own concerns, so nobody really cares (or should care) why you do or don’t drink.
If you must decline an alcoholic drink, do it gracefully and with confidence. Don’t be judgy or offer any commentary — an explanation is not required! If the individual offering the drink is insistent (which is really impolite), a simple reason such as “I don’t drink” or “I’m not drinking this evening” should suffice. You can also say you are the driver for the evening, have to give a conference talk at 8 a.m. or are getting over a cold/taking an antibiotic. Having a glass of a nonalcoholic drink in your hand does usually forestall anyone from offering you anything. And remember if someone asks if you’d like a drink they may not be referring to an alcoholic one. At some events, bartenders serve nonalcoholic drinks in different glasses to alcoholic ones. For example, soft drinks are served in plastic cups with straws while other types of drinks are in actual glassware. If you are concerned about standing out as a nondrinker, just ask the bartender for the glass you prefer and ask for a wedge of lime in any soft drink. This advice also works for those who do drink but want to manage consumption during a professional event.
Whatever amount of alcohol you normally drink, it’s advised to consume half that amount at a professional event. It’s been said (but not scientifically proven) that when you are anxious, one alcoholic drink has the same effect as three drinks in a normal setting. Don’t use alcohol to overcome social anxiety or release your inner extrovert! Self-monitor (or ask a good friend) to recognize when it’s time for you to slow down or stop drinking altogether. If you get melancholy or giddy after a drink or two, and can sense a shift in your demeanor, switch from alcohol to a soft drink. Alternating alcohol with club soda or another nonalcoholic drink is something seasoned professionals do regularly at work-related events. Sip, don’t swig. Ask for an extra-tall glass, or extra ice to dilute your drink. Take time to eat, if food is available, before you have a drink and again at some point during the event. In addition to setting a drink limit, consider setting a time limit for yourself at events. In general, know yourself and how much you can handle, as well as how you react to alcohol.
Alcohol as an Artifact
Your drink, whether alcoholic or not, can be used to help navigate networking situations. Whether it’s alcohol in your glass or not, holding a glass like everyone else in attendance can be comforting and give you something to do with your hands. You can even use your drink to get out of conversations that are stalling or faltering: “I’m going to go get another drink. Please excuse me, it was great talking to you,” or to continue a great conversation: “I think I’d like another drink, may I get you one as well?”
In terms of what and how to drink at a work-related event, it is more polite to drink from a glass instead of swig from a bottle when in conversation, so whenever possible, pour your drink into a glass. I also might have had a different impression of those grad students holding multiple beer bottles at the networking hour if they each had two glasses in hand. Most professional events with a bar are not set up for elaborate cocktail construction — avoid showing off your mixology savvy and just get something simple. If there’s someone you admire and want to talk to standing next to you at the bar, it’s a great opportunity to start a conversation by asking what they are drinking, or what they would drink if not at a limited-option professional event. Don’t pregame a work event. And as for drinking shots at any professional or workplace event: don’t. Ever.
My closing advice: if a work event starts feeling like a party, it’s probably time to leave. Wherever you are in your career, you could be just one networking conversation away from an exciting collaboration or opportunity. Don’t miss it because you’ve had too much to drink.
But please people – DO NOT GET FIRED BECAUSE OF YOUR DRINKING. It makes it awkward for me as the recruiter. I become embarrassed when I have to replace you. How would I have known that you wouldn’t know your limits at a work event. Obviously this isn’t one of the questions I ask my candidates during my screening process. Let’s open up the floor to comments here. Enjoy your end of year corporate retreats, president’s club, industry conventions but please people…..know when enough is enough. Cheers!