Kat Boogaard

Dear Kat: How to Navigate Office Happy Hours

Blog Post created by Kat Boogaard on Nov 18, 2016

Oh, the office happy hour. It can be a real double-edged sword, can’t it? On one hand, it seems like a great way to bond and get to know your colleagues outside of the four walls of your office.


But, on the other hand, you’re a little nervous about how to interact outside of a professional setting. What should you talk about? Is it considered a faux pas to actually kick back and have a few drinks? How professional do you need to keep things?


Yes, these are questions that everybody has before packing up for the day and heading to a happy hour with their co-workers—and that makes today’s “Dear Kat” question an incredibly important one:


Dear Kat, my co-workers often head out for after-work happy hours. But, up until now, I’ve always had some sort of excuse for why I can’t go. Are these something I should be attending? And, if so, do you have any tips for being both friendly and professional in this sort of setting?


This is an awesome question, and one that I know plenty of professionals can relate to. So, let’s get started with the first part of this question first.

Should you go to your office happy hour?

Here’s the short answer: Absolutely, yes!


I know that it can feel somewhat uncomfortable to interact with your colleagues in a more social setting like a bar—particularly if you’re the newbie in the office or have never crossed paths outside of working hours. However, attending these social functions with your teammates is a great way to strengthen your bonds and better get to know one another.


Don’t look at this as a test of your professionalism and polish. Instead, view it as a time when you and your co-workers can kick back and enjoy some friendly conversation. That perspective alone will take some of the pressure off your shoulders.


Alright, so now that you know that you should absolutely join in on those after-work beverages and appetizers, it’s time to cover a few tips to conduct yourself in a respectful, professional manner (spoiler alert: endless rounds of tequila shots aren’t involved).


1. Limit Your Drinking

You had to know this was going to appear on the list of etiquette tips for office happy hours, so we might as well tackle this one first.


Yes, heading out for a couple of drinks with your colleagues is totally acceptable—and you absolutely can enjoy a beverage or two. You’re a grown, responsible adult. However, the emphasis should be on a couple of drinks.


Blowing off some steam when the work day has ended doesn’t automatically give you permission to become sloppy or swing from the chandeliers. So, when in doubt, limit yourself to a maximum of two drinks.


That’s a safe amount that will allow you to participate and unwind, without running the risk of becoming belligerent. You definitely don’t want to be the subject of all of the inevitable office gossip the next day.

2. Avoid the Office Cliques

If you’ve ever attended an office happy hour before, you know that people tend to split up in their own little groups. And, more often than not, those groups tend to be the very same people they interact with day in and day out.


As tough as it might be to go against the grain, remember that you’re not here to mingle with the people you work with on a constant basis and already know like the back of your hand. Make it your goal to strike up conversations with the people you don’t know quite as well.


Doing so will require a little bit of venturing outside your comfort zone. But, it’ll help you to form relationships with people that you might’ve only passed in the hallway previously. And, that’s one of the key benefits of participating in these social activities—to get to know other people from your office!


3. Skip the Work Talk

When people head straight from the office to a bar or restaurant, there’s bound to be at least a little bit of work chatter. And, the short complaint about a complicated project or an overwhelming workload is totally alright—it’s expected.


However, remember that this is your chance to get to know your colleagues outside of work. So, you don’t want all of the conversations to center around how the office printer can’t manage to print a single page without jamming.


Instead, make it your goal to chat about things that don’t have anything to do with work. Find out more about people’s families, or their hobbies and interests outside of the office. It’ll give you a much better understanding of the people you work with, and maybe even help you find a common passion that you both share!

4. Don’t Be Cheap

Is there anything worse than that person who shows up at the happy hour and refuses to buy a round of drinks when it’s her turn or argues over that extra dollar she owes for a tip? Well, not really.


Listen, I’m all for being financially responsible and conscious of your spending. However, you don’t want to be the cheapskate who lets everybody else buy drinks and then shows up with waters and a basket of the free bar popcorn when it’s her turn to foot the bill.


If you’re heading out with your co-workers, recognize the fact that it won’t be free—and you might even wind up buying a drink or two for someone else. It’s part of the process.


Work happy hours can be a great way to strengthen your relationships with the people you work with—as long as you conduct yourself appropriately. So, go ahead and grab a round of drinks with your co-workers! Just remember these four key tips when you do so.