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Everyone or nearly everyone has at some point an occasion to drink either at work as part of a work function or with a group of friends from work. What are some ways to help avoid the pitfalls of drinking with colleagues while still reaping some of the benefits?

I realize this may be dependent on the situation and the people involved. For instance, drinking at a holiday party for an accounting firm might be different than drinking with your good friends who you work with at the accounting firm, which may be different than drinking at your desk at a funky startup.

Are there any general rules other than knowing your own limits? When is it ok to be comfortable enough to drink with work colleagues. Keep in mind that drinking can be great until someone gets too comfortable and says something they regret. Knowing that it's a possibility for things to be said or done that can't be unsaid or undone (either by yourself or a colleague you're drinking with), is it ever worth the risk?

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It's worth noting that drinking culture can vary by sector, as well; in my experience and observations, startup culture and financial services tend to have some of the most alcohol-centric tendencies I've seen -- and given that a number of people who work in these industries are freshly-minted college grads, the drinking can very quickly spiral out of control. (My friends in finance drink so much, it's crazy.) –  Aarthi Apr 10 '12 at 20:29
    
@Aarthi Depends on why you drink. I work in finance and my friends don't drink like crazy. –  Karlson Apr 10 '12 at 20:32
    
@Karlson Fair enough! My friends tend towards the high-risk high-reward side of finance, though, and there's definitely a push in that culture for extremes; there's not much done "in moderation" there, so far as I can tell. –  Aarthi Apr 10 '12 at 20:34
    
When I noticed some Mormon colleagues getting away without drinking, I suddenly discovered it in my own religious tenets. People accept that explanation readily. Then I pound down the soda water. (I don't like the empty calories in cola, beer, wine, etc.) –  emory Apr 22 '12 at 8:19
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This is a question about local culture. It's completely dependent on your locale and social milieu. Are you working in Saudi Arabia or in Russia? Are you a farm laborer or a personal servant? –  Gilles Apr 22 '12 at 21:44
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7 Answers 7

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Don't get drunk around coworkers.

By all means drink if you feel comfortable and you feel it appears acceptable. Whether you're at a holiday party or at a bar after work it's okay to drink enough to get a little buzz if you want, but don't let others pressure you into drinking, don't drink more than anyone else, and don't drink more than you can handle.

It always depends on the group of people you're with of course; some companies might be perfectly happy to let all of their employees get wasted, but that's generally not going to be the case.

If you feel that drinking any more will inhibit your ability to act professionally at a work-related party, stop drinking. Even if you don't feel that way, don't lead the drinking; you don't want to look like a booze hound even if you're not actually drunk. It's all about appearance.

Even if these people are your friends, they are still your coworkers. You don't want to start arguments or rumors floating about regardless of how comfortable you are around your coworkers or how comfortable you think they are with you.

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And don't let anyone post drunken pictures on Facebook of a company party. You yourself should refrain from taking them even if you are not drunk which of course you should not be. –  HLGEM Apr 10 '12 at 22:40
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This will depend on the culture - both the country/area and the company. There may also be regulations (health and safely etc.) that mean you can't drink alcohol during work hours.

If you are representing the company in any capacity then not drinking alcohol is probably the best bet. You are far less likely to make any faux pas if you are not even remotely drunk.

For a social event you still might want to drink less than you normally would. Any drunken behaviour will be noticed and at least commented on the next working day. I worked at one company where someone got fired for their behaviour at the Christmas party.

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+1 for it depends on the culture: In some places, drinking any amount of alcohol would get you in trouble. In others, failing to drink could get you in trouble. –  GreenMatt Feb 8 '13 at 20:55
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  1. Know your own limits. My personal rule is that I drink no more than half of what I know I can safely handle (e.g. if I know that having a couple glasses of wine won't impair me, I'll have one glass, not two). Better safe than sorry.

  2. Within the limits of #1, follow suit but don't raise the stakes. If everybody else orders beer and you want to fit in, order a beer -- but not whiskey.

  3. If for any reason you don't want to drink, remember that Coke looks the same as Rum & Coke, 7-Up looks the same as a Highball, and so on. If the setting is a walk-up bar rather than drinks ordered from a waiter at a table, no one will ever know if you don't say anything.

  4. If you don't want to drink but fear judgment from an alcohol-focused culture, "I can't right now" is nicely ambiguous -- maybe you're on some medication that precludes alcohol, for instance. But if these are your coworkers, you may have a longer-term problem here -- you can use this at one party, but not every week.

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Your point 3 does not account for a rounds culture. But I suspect pub etiquette is somewhat off topic. –  TRiG May 14 '12 at 20:14
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As already mentioned here, this is a dangerous area. Proceed with caution. When in doubt, do not drink at all!

Be advised that some people will evaluate you from how you behave in office parties. That is human nature. If you can keep it cool and loosen up a bit, it will be fine. Also no one needs to drink to do that.

Swimming in the fountain is not fine. If there's ever a chance to lose the cool, don't drink at all. Don't be Meredith :)

Rule of thumb for me: at office parties, I drink at most 2 beers OR 2 glasses of wine OR 1 glass of whiskey.

Personally, I learned that's an amount that does not affect my judgement but allows me to be seen socially drinking make it easier for me to join the CEO for a smart talk ;)

Adjust the amounts to yourself.

Socially drinking is an art. If you are not sure how to do it, don't do it at all.

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Some people can't tolerate even that. –  Karlson Apr 10 '12 at 20:36
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(disclaimer) This is somewhat of a UK-centric view, but...

Drink as much as or as little as you want. Very very few people care either way, and those that do are not the colleagues you want to be socialising with. Unless you get wasted every night out you are probably not that bad.

People normally stick around their 'comfort point'. i.e. those who don't want to drink much (or don't drink at all) make excuses and leave early. That's fine, it means the people left are all at a similar level.

Number one point: If you are actually the kind of person who regularly goes off the rails do not drink at all. Nonetheless it's worth turning up for at least 30 mins to any social event. Just putting the effort into appearing is all that's needed.

Don't be sneaky, don't pretend you're drinking when you're substituting in plain colas, etc. It doesn't look good. Just drink your cola if that's what you want!

As someone else mentioned though; if you're representing your company, be prepared to be stone-cold sober.

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This. (If you're in the UK). It's fairly normal for clients and co-workers to insist on drinks and it's perfectly possible to leave whenever you want and drink whatever you want. We can start the night with 40 people, the people who don't drink for religious reasons, because they're cutting down or because they don't like the taste don't drink. Everyone stays as long as they wants and leaves whenever they want without comment. The only people left at the end are the people who want to be. Easy. –  Ben Apr 18 at 20:51
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My thoughts most closely align with Adrian's, and I disagree with Scott Wilson.

Here's why:

Many work events where alcohol is served are times when:

  • Coworkers have an excellent opportunity to bond with each other.
    • M-F, 9-5 is filled with meetings and hustle and bustle. You should not assume that you'll have the same opportunity to bond with your coworkers during normal business hours.
  • Coworkers feel more relaxed and consequently feel at greater liberty to describe true motivations begin key decisions and key corporate events.

For this reason, I really don't recommend that you play it coy with a "club soda and lime", lest you violate unspoken social mores or just come across as a total square.

In conclusion, have a very modest amount of alcohol (maybe 2-3 drinks), try to always attend such events, and enjoy!

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Here in NZ we tend to have drink at work on a Friday afternoon as a matter of course. But the sensible thing to do is to simply drink as much as you want, but never get drunk. If you can't gauge yourself - then stick to zero - I'm driving or whatever excuse you need.

Don't pretend to be someone you're not. Leave that for the night in the pub with your mates :-)

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