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The Do’s & Don’ts of After Work Happy Hours

Attending a happy hour with your coworkers after a long day at work is very different than the average night of drinking in college many of us grew used to. Sure, it’s a great way to let loose after work and bond with the people you spend 40+ hours a week with, but it’s also a great way to embarrass yourself (it happens to the best of us). Have fun, let loose and enjoy the time off-the-clock—but make sure to remember these do’s and don’ts while you’re there.

Make an effort to attend work happy hours (when you feel up to it).

I get it: sometimes you just want to head home after a long day. But when and if you feel up to it, you should grab drinks with your coworkers when the group is heading to a bar after work. “This is one of the few places outside of the office that you have the opportunity to hang out with coworkers in a more relaxed setting. Always make an effort to go,” says Caitie, a 2018 Bryant University grad. “Getting to know your coworkers outside of the office is a great way to build relationships you wouldn’t have otherwise. You don’t always have to say yes, but be polite if you decline the invite.”

On the other hand, be careful of peer-pressuring those around you. This is still very real outside of college, and not everyone is going to be interested in spending additional time with coworkers outside of work. It’s important not to “peer pressure your coworkers into going. Some of us have our office bestie who will always be down for a drink after work, but don’t guilt or pressure anyone into going out after they have already declined,” says Caitie. Maybe they have plans, maybe they don’t drink, maybe they have social anxiety, or maybe they just don’t want to go. Whatever the reason is, your coworkers don’t have to justify not wanting to come to happy hour with you, and you shouldn’t make them feel bad about it. Likewise, don’t feel too bad if you’re the one that wants to skip out. 

Harps Joseph | Unsplash

Talk to people you wouldn’t normally reach out to during the workweek.

It’s not often you’ll see your coworkers outside of the 40 hours you’re paid to spend with them, so you should branch out when you have the chance. “Go talk to Jimmy that sits across the office, rather than your work wife that you already talk to 24/7,” Amanda, a 2015 Texas Christian University, suggests. It can feel awkward going up to someone you’ve never really engaged with, but if you noticed they have a mug on their desk with a quote from Parks and Rec, which happens to be your favorite show, then that’s a great place to start. Lauren, a 2018 Bryant University grad, agrees that “it’s important to get to know your co-workers outside of work. It builds trust among team members when you bond about something unrelated to work.” It’s also important to include people you don’t necessarily consider a friend—they have feelings, too! “Be inclusive. I work in a big office, so it’s not often that everyone I ask will go out, but I always try to include as many people as possible when sending out the calendar invite. Ask the new marketing girl, or even the intern, because that type of kindness goes a long way in the office,” says Caitie. It would suck to find out you weren’t invited for drinks when everyone else was, right? So look for common ground between you and your coworkers to get the conversations going, then you can start to build up real relationships.

Related: How to Make Friends At Your Job (& Actually Have The Relationships Last)

Happy hours also provide an opening to talk to your superiors, who you wouldn’t generally get to interact with on a casual level. Ashley, a 2018 Syracuse University grad, recommends “going out of your way to start a conversation with your boss. Happy hours are a great place to talk to them in more of a low-pressure environment.” When you aren’t confined to reporting to them about the status of your current projects, you may find that you have a lot more in common than you think, which helps build rapport and strengthen the dynamic in the office. Talking to and getting to know your boss is great, but Annie, a 2016 Colgate University grad, encourages you not to “drunk cry to your boss,” which would probably lead to the most repercussions.

But if you play your cards right, happy hours could double as a great networking opportunity. If you know you’re looking to progress up the ladder, or move into another department within your company, happy hours can put you face-to-face with people you don’t typically have the chance to interact with. Tina, a 2018 Bryant University grad, recommends that you network as much as you can. “Happy hours are great for mingling with your coworkers in a more casual environment, but also a good opportunity to put yourself in front of people you may not work with day-to-day.“ By opening yourself up to these people, you may open yourself up to exciting new opportunities in the future.

Know what topics are off limits. 

The conversation at your happy hour will largely depend on the type of environment you work in. Amanda suggests that you “don’t talk politics, religion, etc.,” but if you’re in the political or media fields, this might differ. Be mindful of those around you in making a judgment call on what’s okay to talk about with your coworkers. Sometimes it can be hard to relate to your coworkers, so you might be tempted to keep talking about what’s going on at work, but Jane, a 2018 graduate of Alabama University, suggests against that. “Everyone is off the clock and wants to relax. They don’t want to rehash today’s meeting or this month’s sales figures,” she says. Some easy topics to focus on include current events, pop culture, what you’re currently reading or watching, new restaurants you’ve recently tried or your favorite workout class. If you’re the type of person that finds it hard to keep the conversation going, Tina suggests “[having] a few conversation topics in your pocket, and if the conversation goes stale have an “out”–a friend at the other side of the room, or a refresh on your drink.”

But even though you’re not in the office anymore, don’t use this time to “talk poorly about your coworkers. Word always spreads fast,” says Amanda. If you are talking negatively about Sally from the accounting department and her friend walks by, we all know how awkward the next team meeting will be. As long as you’re at a work-sponsored event, the etiquette you follow in the office should still apply once you step outside of the office.

Related: 9 Important Office Etiquette Rules to Follow at Your First Job

Consider the dress code.

If you work in an office that’s more corporate, you likely won’t want to spend your night standing at the bar in a blazer and heels. Caitie shares that she “keeps a comfy and cute pair of shoes in [her] car or desk for impromptu happy hours.” On days when she has to dress up, she “even keeps a spare casual (but work-appropriate) dress in [her] car in case [her team] decides to grab a drink somewhere after work.” You might as well keep a comfy pair of shoes under your desk just in case!

The obvious: be smart about what you drink.

You never want to be the one making a fool of yourself at a work happy hour. “Don’t be the drunkest person in the room. Happy hours are an easy way to let loose and feel comfortable with your peers, but remember: it’s a work event, so try to avoid any awkward Friday morning conversations,” says Tina. The last thing you want to be is an example, ending up puking in the bar bathroom, being asked to leave the bar or falling all over the place. Adrianna, a 2017 Emerson College grad, agrees: “I would say to be as drunk as the most senior person there, because if you’re blacking out and everyone else has a slight buzz, then odds are you’re going to be the fodder in office gossip.” This is easily avoided by watching how much you drink–make sure you space yourself out throughout the night. Sarah, a 2018 grad of Marquette University, also reminded us how important it is to know your limits, and suggests keeping it to two drinks. “Although you’re out of the office, you shouldn’t overdo it,” she says. Annie also suggests having water in between each alcoholic beverage, “because you’re a grownup, and not at the club.”

You may not think about it, but ordering the wrong drink can land you in an unfortunate situation. “Order white wine, not red, so your teeth don’t get stained!” Alex, a 2016 grad of Colgate University, reminds us. Tequila also might not be the best idea either, especially “if the CEO of your company is coming to happy hour. It might not be a good idea to order everyone a round of tequila shots!” says Adrianna. It’s important to be mindful, and mimic what others around you are drinking—if your boss orders a vodka soda, go ahead and order that vodka soda—but if everyone else is drinking wine and beer, you should probably stick to that.

If everyone else is ordering drinks, but drinking isn’t your thing, that’s okay, too. There’s no shame in not drinking at a happy hour, but if you don’t want to draw attention to it you could always order a soda water with lime, a juice, or a Shirley Temple—no one will notice the difference! You should never feel any pressure to drink if that’s not your thing.

Kelsey Chance | Unsplash

Remember that Monday morning might get real awkward, real quick, if you’re not careful.

We’ve probably all heard before to stay away from workplace hookups and relationships, but this also scales down to the level of how you interact with coworkers at happy hours. “Don’t flirt with your co-worker. The next day at work will be really awkward, you’ll regret everything, and you will be cringing at your desk about your actions,” says Ashley. Amanda takes it a step further and suggests not to “hook up with your coworker. You need to see these people 40+ hours a week, and word spreads fast.” No matter the size of your office, people love to talk; Things will get around.

Being able to let loose and spend time with coworkers off-the-clock is something to look forward to throughout your week, but next time you get a calendar invite for a work happy hour be sure to keep these tips in mind. Hopefully, these words of advice will help you going into your next one!

Follow Flora Goodman on Instagram.

Flora is a graduate from Bryant University with a major in communication. She moved to Boston after graduating and somehow is already 2 years post-grad. By day, she is a marketing associate but when she's not at the office she loves trying new foods, hunting for the latest trends, exploring the city, going to spin classes, and finding as many cute dogs to pet as possible! Follow her on Instagram @lifeisgoodman