Alcohol is an omnipresent fixture of being an adult, but letting it bleed into your working life has the ability to undermine your professionalism. If you’re anticipating being at a work function—and even if your company is known for fostering a pretty raucous atmosphere at its parties—there are things to know about setting limits, and ways to incorporate these boundaries even if you’re tempted by an open bar.
How much to drink at professional events
For one thing, a professional event shouldn’t be a cathartic night out with a group of friends. You’re going to be surrounded by the people who pay you, so it’s best to temper your thirst.
As a general rule, don’t go out for drinks beforehand. “Pre-gaming,” a ritual that you may have been partial to in college, is not something you want to do before a professional event, if only to lessen the chances of unwittingly becoming sloppy as the night goes on. As Natalie Lundsteen, an assistant dean for career and professional development at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center wrote for Inside Higher Education in 2019, you should seek to curb your alcohol intake by about 50 percent at professional gatherings.
The temptation might be strong, however, especially if there’s an open bar. One way you can do still socialize with a glass in your hand is by substituting every other drink with a seltzer or a soft drink. Strangely, it can feel uncomfortable to chat without the tactile sensation of a cup in hand, but you might find that party banter is just as stimulating if you’re sipping on a ginger ale in between alcoholic drinks.
Understand your company’s culture
Some firms, particularly ones of the youthful side, tend to encourage a more boisterous vibe when it comes to company soirees. If you came from a company where taking shots was encouraged at holiday parties, but recently transitioned to a role at a less casual company, it’d behoove you not to reprise your old antics. The last thing you want to do is commit career suicide because you were so hyped on the thought of free booze you couldn’t control yourself.
Understand that for your company and its HR team, there’s a massive concern about liability stemming from the potential of a soused-up employee doing something they shouldn’t.
Know your alcohol tolerance
Having a two or three drink maximum is probably the best way to go if you’re going to be at a work party for a couple hours. There’s no reason to be guzzling drinks, especially if you have a lower tolerance. If you feel yourself growing more buzzed than you’d like to be around your boss, try switching to a soft-drink.
The work party should be your pre-party
If you’re fixing to have a big night, treat the work party as your warm-up round for your desired debauchery. You can—especially if there’s no work the next day, or if the office is expected to be particularly quiet the morning after—plan to head out with a group of colleagues once you’ve shown face at the company party for a sufficient time.
Don’t forget, too, that with an open bar usually comes free dinner, so use the work party as a way to ply your stomach with a meal on the company’s dime in order to be set for the night ahead.
The best way to think about the relationship between professional decorum and booze in abundance is this: You’re not at a company event to get drunk (unless of course that’s the explicit intent, as outlined by your CEO.) There will always be HR people and other management types who are tasked as stewards of the company’s bottom line, monitoring your potentially untoward behavior.
There will always be more opportunities to party when those people aren’t around, so don’t risk your reputation by potentially acting foolish when they’re peering over your shoulder.