After-hours workplace functions provide a great opportunity for you to get to know your coworkers on a more personal level, and socialize freely with them without the burden of work or deadlines looming overhead.
While these types of parties or gatherings can be a lot of fun, it is imperative that you know how to conduct yourself in a way that isn’t going to reflect poorly on you and potentially be detrimental to your career. Here are ten tips for behaving yourself in these types of situations, having a good time without sacrificing professionalism:
Too Much Alcohol…Or Not Nearly Enough – When it comes to mixing business and pleasure, a cocktail is a time tested social lubricant that can help tightly wound coworkers loosen up and have a good time. Not all office parties include access to adult beverages, but when they do it usually makes the party a lot more interesting – for better or for worse. If someone offers you a drink, (unless you are a recovering alcoholic) accept and allow yourself to unwind; but keep your wits about you and keep track of how many drinks you consume. Don’t be the person who ends up passed out in the conference room with a lampshade on their head. Just because Bill from accounting can put down ten shots of Jameson without a problem, doesn’t mean you should try to keep up with him. Avoid the embarrassing walk of shame when you return to work on Monday by knowing your limits.
Over-Sharing – As the night goes on (especially if the drinks are flowing), the overall feeling of being with your coworkers dissipates and you begin to feel more like you are with old friends. This is great for team bonding and getting to know your coworkers on a more personal level, but getting too personal and forgetting who you are talking to can lead to an extremely uncomfortable situation for everyone, especially you. No one wants to hear about your messy divorce or recently deceased cat at the company Christmas party. Save that noise for your therapist, and focus on keeping the conversation light, lively, and tasteful. Remember – nobody likes a buzz kill.
Choose Your Plus One Wisely – While some after-hours gatherings offer an invitation for you to bring a guest to join in on the office festivities, keep past experiences with your potential plus one candidates in mind when deciding who to invite (if anyone at all). If the girl you are dating is known for having one too many cocktails and loudly stumbling out of the club at 2AM with smeared makeup and a broken Jimmy Choo, chances are you are better off flying solo on this mission. Conversely, if you have a friend or significant other in mind who you know isn’t going to embarrass you in front of the people you spend 40+ hours a week with, inviting them to a work function is a great way to introduce them to your coworkers and can provide you with a fail-safe escape plan if you decide you want to make an early exit.
Have a Game Plan for Getting Home Responsibly – If you plan on drinking, plan on having someone drive you home. Even if you are only a short distance from your house and feel sober enough to drive, you don’t want to make yourself look reckless or irresponsible in front of your boss and/or coworkers. Not only will this make you less likely to be invited out for drinks with your coworkers again, it will make your boss question your ability to make responsible choices in other areas, including your professional life. Have a friend on call to pick you up, or cough up the $40 for a taxi. Not only will this make you look like a responsible employee, it will ensure you get home safely and allow you to partake in the festivities without risking a DUI. It will cost you much less in the end to call a friend or taxi than it would to call a DUI lawyer from a jailhouse payphone following a drunk driving arrest.
Know Who is With Who – Office mixers can provide the opportunity to rub elbows with employees in different departments, or depending on the size of your business, different branches or office locations. If you find yourself single at a gathering like this, be sure you know who is with who to avoid flirting with a coworker’s significant other, or worse, one of their family members. A story that starts out with hitting on a coworkers mother, sister, or daughter never ends well. Play it safe and don’t scout for talent at company organized events.
Evaluate your Outfit Choice, then Reevaluate it a Few More Times – You might look fabulous in that little black dress and six inch stilettos, but you are not here to be the entertainment and don’t want to look like you are…or aspire to be. Reserve the club attire for the club and keep it family friendly at your office gala. At the end of the day this is a work related event, not a Las Vegas bachelorette party.
Paper AND Plastic – Many of us almost never carry cash around anymore, and depend on our credit/debit cards for discretionary purchases. If the social function is being hosted at a bar or restaurant, you won’t be able to quickly settle up on your portion of the bill or tip with a card if you want to slip out early. A healthy dependence on your credit cards is nothing to be ashamed of; but stiffing the boss on a bill definitely is. Hit up the ATM on your way to the function and make sure you break down your $20’s into smaller denominations so you can have exact change if you need it.
Good Manners and Dining Etiquette – If it is a dinner party you are going to be attending, you want to display the best version of yourself and not look like a barbarian at the dinner table. I can’t tell you how much it bothers to me when someone exhibits excessively poor table manners, or does/says something tasteless or uncouth in mixed company that makes me shutter in embarrassment (for them). No one wants a fork biter at their table. Thanks to the internet, there is no excuse for poor manners. If you don’t know which fork to use or how to hold it, look it up. Humble beginnings don’t have to equate to poor etiquette unless you are too lazy to learn.
Participation is a Must – There are many different types of workplace celebrations you will be invited to over the course of your career. Sometimes they may include activities to liven up the party, such as party games, karaoke, secret Santa, etc. Don’t be too cool for school. Participate in the activities that your coworkers have organized, and keep in mind no matter how silly you feel, someone put time and effort into organizing the event. While it may not be your cup of tea, act polite and be a team player. The guy who butchered the Billy Idol song in karaoke Friday night is going to face far less scrutiny among his coworkers around the water cooler on Monday than the guy who didn’t participate at all and spent the whole night texting.
Airplane Mode is your Best Friend – When you are at a work function, chances are you are spending time with at least a few people who’s time is more valuable than yours is. If they are able to put their mobile devices away for a couple hours, you can too. You don’t need to ignore legitimately important calls, texts, or emails; but checking your phone every five minutes is going to make you look like you have better things to do (or at least you think you do). This is one of the biggest pet peeves of pretty much everyone, and should be avoided as much as possible when you are out with your coworkers. Keep in mind you wouldn’t have been invited if people didn’t want to talk to you, so put the bat-phone away for a while and have a real conversation!
BIO – Brandon Honeycutt is writes and coordinates community outreach for the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, a San Diego criminal defense law firm. Brandon moonlights as an aspiring novelist and freelance journalist.