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Home » Our Take » Drinking With Colleagues: The Black, White, and Grey.

Drinking With Colleagues: The Black, White, and Grey.

Posted on January 15, 2015 in Industry Insight

My generation does not live in the era of daily drinking and smoking at work. We neither keep bottles under our desk, not ashtrays on top of them, double-timing as paperweights (we don’t live in the paperweight era, either).  This is definitely an office improvement, but there is one pitfall: we live in a world of rules, and we don’t know the rules until they are broken. So let’s review…
There are two kinds of drinking with colleagues: drinking outside of work, and drinking in the office. Office drinking is usually sanctioned by the boss and limited to 1 – 2 harmless drinks (think a Blue Moon or a Mike’s Hard Lemonade…). Sometimes the office drinking includes a victory shot from the bottle of Jameson that’s been sitting in the supply closet or in the drawer of the office manager, which is perfectly fine. You should be able to enjoy your work environment and personal successes, and given the environment we live in today, this is safe.
Drinking outside of work is totally different, and I recommend not doing it outside of birthdays, holidays, sporting events, concerts, or other forms of celebration or entertainment. These circumstances are positive events, and you are too busy for your conversation to turn too serious, and that is the whole point. Yes, happy hour is something normal to do with colleagues, but I don’t recommend making it a habit. Do it once every fiscal quarter, and no more. There are enough better times to drinks with your colleagues.
Going out to happy hours or grabbing drinks outside of work can turn out great, but it can also turn out not so great…usually it doesn’t turn out well. I can hear your protests already, but I’m trying to keep you safe and happy and in your job, so trust me. A girls’ or guys’ night out may seem like a fun time, and it could be fun. However, chances are that you’re excluding some colleagues from this event, which creates enmity in the workplace. You need your colleagues to be supportive of you, and you should be there for your colleagues regardless of personal affection. And what is going to be the main points of discussion at happy hour? Only other colleagues and bosses. You don’t need someone else to plant the seeds of dissatisfaction in your job, and you should not be poisoning other people’s opinions. You shouldn’t be talking about how much you hate anyone in your company because it only makes things worse in the office.
Again, let’s be honest: girls’ and guys’ night outs are full of binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of 5 or more drinks in a 5 hour time frame (at least once in 30 days). That is an easy threshold to cross. You should not be getting that fracked up because you have no idea what can come out of your mouth, and no matter what you think is private, everything filters up toward the boss. If you’re dancing on the tables, your boss will know. If you’re kicked out of a bar, your boss will know.
Never ever go out with a colleague in a one-on-one situation that could be considered intimate. Don’t kid yourselves: you know what you’re doing it and in most companies there are policies against it. Maybe one or both of you are in a relationship already, so you think it’s safe. Don’t be stupid. You’re just building up tension and potentially spurring the company rumor mill in to high gear, and that will not help either of your careers. Alcohol can be harmless, and it can be a means to an end. You need to be mature enough to know the difference.
If I’ve totally ruined your social life, you need to examine a lot more than just this blog post. Be friendly and have fun, but you don’t need to do it with alcohol. You can hang out without alcohol and still make mistakes. It’s okay to have complaints about work and talk them over with colleagues, but you need to do it constructively and with the goal of improving your office. You won’t be constructive when you’re loaded. This should be obvious, but then again some people learn by falling. Drinking with colleagues can be done, but just be smart about it. It’s not the most important thing in the world.