The tradition of Friday night work drinks is one that has long held its place in Australian culture, and is no doubt here to stay. In fact, many companies now promote this as a social event of the week, and supply alcohol to employees to encourage friendships and bonding in a more informal setting.
Katie Burns, a marketing executive, believes it’s a good thing. “Between my old office and the short 6 minute walk back to the train station, it was almost impossible to avoid the far too regular after-work drinks,” she says.
“The up-side of it was that I quickly made life-long friends, bonding over that second glass of wine, and it also helped me to form a good working relationship with my boss. I was able to relax and get to know him as a person outside of the working environment.”
Katie also met her husband through after work drinks, something she never imagined happening.
“I never in a million years expected to start a relationship with someone I worked with – something I would have previously considered very unprofessional,” she explains. ‘However, we got talking after work at someone’s leaving drinks and the rest is history as they say!”
But letting your hair down with colleagues doesn’t always lead to such positive outcomes. In fact, for some, it can mark the crossing of a line, when drinking is taken to the extreme and jobs or working relationships are put in jeopardy.
Jess Thompson* witnessed this with her boss. “Whenever we had after work drinks, she would get really drunk and bitch about people in our team and talk about how incompetent they were. She would get so drunk she wouldn’t even remember where she lived most Friday nights!”
Despite this behavior, Jess says that her boss would return to work on Monday as if nothing had happened, and reprimand anyone if they so much as criticized their work colleagues.
“She ended up losing the trust of most people, and got the reputation of being a hypocrite,” says Jess. “She was like a different person when she drank, and it did nothing but obtain her a bad reputation and a loss of respect.”
Karen Gately, HR Consultant, says that whilst work drinks are a great way of getting to know peers and building a sense of camaraderie, they can also present a setting in which behavioural issues can arise.
“Alcohol can at times make people behave in ways that they may not otherwise, creating issues that then need to be resolved when back at work,” she says.
Karen says that the way you and others conduct yourself unquestionably influences your reputation and standing among your colleagues and superiors.
She also advises that if you struggle to keep your drinking and behaviour in check, then work drinks can be a sure way to undermine your career prospects.
On the flipside, Karen believes that turning up to any work sponsored social event can be an important way of demonstrating interest and engagement.
“When your employer puts on drinks to celebrate a significant milestone or achievement, choosing to be there can influence your reputation for being a team player and committed,” she explains.
Despite this, she acknowledges that not everyone wants to attend after work drinks, and neither should they have to.
“The key is to show commitment to being there when it matters, such as when the team is celebrating,” she advises. “The rest of the time just focus on being a great contributor at work, and your decision to not attend work drinks as often as others would like, will pale into insignificance. “
Karen highlights that no one should ever feel obligated to drink alcohol, irrespective of the reason for the event, and emphasizes that this is purely a personal choice.
“There are no circumstances in which it is reasonable for anyone to expect you to do anything other than what you are comfortable with.”
Karen offers the following tips for attending after work drinks;
- Remember that just because it is a social event, you still have relationships and a reputation to protect.
- Avoid becoming overly familiar with people you don’t have that depth of connection with in the office.
- Maintain personal space.
- Watch what you say – your colleagues don’t necessarily want or need to hear the details of your personal life over a few drinks.
- Feel free to share but have discretion in sharing information appropriate to the group and setting.
- Maintain professional standards in the way you choose to dress. What you choose to wear to a nightclub may not be appropriate for work drinks.