Is drinking at work okay?

Dear Manners@Work,

I joined a new workplace about six months ago and they have a lot of social events and most people tend to drink quite a bit. There is a conference coming up soon, which is three days at a hotel where the whole team is staying. There will be functions each evening. My question is—how much is it OK to drink at these kinds of things? Do I have to watch out, or is it better to just join in with everyone and be merry?

Regards,
Wine-not-beer

Dear Wine-not-beer,

Alcohol tends to make life easier when it comes to socialising—especially when you’re relatively new to the team. That lowering of inhibitions can be just what you need to feel comfortable making conversation with strangers or mingling at a function.

Given you are someone who does drink alcohol, the best advice here is to take your cue from the people around you and the organisation’s culture. Clearly, people at your organisation seem to be pretty comfortable with putting away a few pints (or glasses of wine!) and so it seems acceptable behaviour at this company. Other organisations can be very different. Some will have very clear rules about acceptable behaviour, others may ban drinking at official functions entirely—for example, some government departments do this. You’ll likely be able to find a policy on your intranet if this is the case.

Having said that, there is a difference between socialising with family and friends and socialising with workmates. (When you’ve been working somewhere a long time, those boundaries can get blurred as workmates become friends, but the following still applies.)

If you drink too much and make an idiot of yourself, friends and family will most likely clean you up, laugh about your hangover the next day and move on. The same may not happen with workmates.

Next time you are in a meeting and trying to convince the room your brilliant idea is a winner, you don’t want them thinking about that time you stumbled and spilled your red wine all over the CEO. Or ran your mouth off complaining about another colleague. Or over-shared some intimate personal details …

(Unfortunately, because of our society’s well-practised patriarchal norms, this is especially true for women who get drunk. Men who get drunk and rowdy can often get away with the behaviour—it’s seen as macho and amusing instead of out-of-control and sloppy. Drunk women can be judged far more harshly for the same behaviour, so keep this in mind if it applies to you. And if you’re a man? It’s still a good idea to take heed, the times, they are a changing …)

Remember, you always have the option not to drink. Do you care more about how you are perceived in the workplace than on the dance floor? Then this could be the option for you. Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve in this situation. Are you only drinking because you feel peer pressure to drink? Would you rather not be hungover the next day? You get to choose what you put in your body, so make the choice that is right for you—which is not necessarily the same choice that Dave from accounting has made.

If you decide that you do indeed want a glass of wine? Set yourself a limit. It may be two drinks, or three. Alternate drinks with water. Make sure you eat. Do whatever it is you need to do to ensure you stay in control of your behaviour. Not only will this help to protect your professional reputation, it will also help you get the most out of the conference! Those 7am breakfast sessions are hard enough without a headache to battle as well.

Kindly yours,
Manners@Work

Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

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