The Way to Work

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The Way To Work: Happy Hour

July 21, 2008
by Rachel Balik
You spend the better part of your life at work. Our weekly feature, The Way to Work, offers tips and guidelines to help you succeed in the office. This week, walk the fine line between camaraderie and career suicide as we teach you how to work the room at happy hour.

Fatal Faux Pas

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The Gig blogger Nadira Hira asked a bartender at popular New York City hot spot to describe some of the worst “don’ts” of an office happy hour. The biggest no-no is, ironically, drinking too much. In other words, you can get “happy,” but definitely not drunk. In fact, if you can get away with ordering a nonalcoholic beverage (Hira suggests ginger ale and cranberry juice), you should. Also, don’t forget that this is a company event, and even if it seems friendly, you’re being watched. Your coworkers and supervisors will be impressed by good manners and social skills, not by how much you can drink. This isn’t college anymore, so if you feel like you need to have a competition with your coworkers, make it a secret one in your head. See if you can drink the weakest drinks, and fewer of them than anyone else.
AskMen.com suggests that you avoid hogging all the appetizers. You also need to walk a fine line between getting too personal and boring everyone to death with a detailed work-related conversation. AskMen.com explains, “It’s okay to discuss general ideas; you can finalize them the following day in the office.” Remember that the point of happy hour is to prove that you’re a human being: you like sports, movies and other things that don’t involve spreadsheets. Other tips: don’t assume your boss is paying, remember to bring your business cards and definitely do not do that annoying thing where you look over a coworker’s shoulder while she’s speaking to see if someone more interesting is approaching.

Happiness at Happy Hour

Do make the effort to attend a few happy hours, advises Carol Spieckerman, who runs a management consulting firm. “Continually turning down after-hours invitations often creates a vacuum waiting to be filled with speculation about your motives and personal life,” she explains in a CareerBuilder.com article. Even if you just pop in for a bit, your presence still counts. Happy hour can also be a great source of vital industry information. “I used to work in commercial real estate in Boston, which is generally an ‘old boys club,’” Diane K. Danielson says. “The first time I invited myself along for drinks with them, my jaw dropped at the amount of industry information that was exchanged that I never would have been privy to.” In fact, the best way to make happy hour work for is to listen. Spiekerman suggests listening for 75 percent of the time, and talking for only 25 percent.

One benefit of happy hour is that any cranky feelings or judgmental thoughts you had about your coworkers can often be dispelled in the less stressful environment. Not only can you chat in a human way, but Jobacle.com suggests that the connections you forge over a casual drink can pay off in the long run when you need help at work. Furthermore, you might even meet key people from other companies. The site offers some basic guidelines that can keep happy hour productive rather than potentially awkward. For example, make sure everyone is invited, everyone knows who’s paying and the location is close to the office. Be near a coworker of your gender when the evening starts to wind down, because you don’t want to become office gossip or give a colleague the wrong impression. And, of course, avoid doing shots. Always.
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