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Happy Hour Etiquette

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There's no getting around an occasional office happy hour, and why would you want to? While some people may look forward to socializing with their coworkers after hours, others may find after hour functions an extension of their work day and would much prefer to go home and relax. Either way, skipping the office happy hour could affect the way your colleagues and boss perceive you. There are obvious benefits, and downfalls, to attending the office happy hour. Here are a few tips to make the most out of mixing beer with business:

1. Don't underestimate the value of sharing an after-hour drink. Continuously opting out of events after work will get you labeled as either a bore or a person who is not interested in connecting with the rest of the team. Use this opportunity to build relationships with those you don't often see and reinforce your relationship with those you work with regularly. This is your chance for others to see another great side of you; use it to your advantage.
2. Who says your drink has to contain alcohol? Attending a business function, either a formal affair or an impromptu happy hour, doesn't require you to consume liquor. Don't skip a function because you don't drink, or think you will be out of place because you don't partake as much as your coworkers. If you order a soda or non-alcoholic beverage, but keep the conversation lively, asking questions and immersing yourself in the discussion, no one will even notice. Or, order one alcoholic beverage, and make it last. It is important to have a glass of some form of liquid in your hand, however, so you don't appear as if you are anxious to leave.
3. It's still considered business. Remember that happy hour with the office is not the same thing as happy hour with your friends. While you would certainly use your best judgment in both situations, having a drink with your colleagues and boss is still a more relaxed version of a business meeting. Your reputation is always on the line. You are giving your boss a glimpse of your social skills and your ability to make good decisions in front of your clients. One to two drinks should be your professional limit.
4. Pace yourself. If you plan to be there for a while, multiple drinks may be fine, but if you are only at the bar for 20 minutes, the same amount of liquor may look like you have a drinking problem. Regardless of your tolerance level, think carefully before ordering another round.
5. Think before you speak. We tend to become more relaxed when we are away from the office and dishing about your spouse, a friend or troubled relationship can easily come back to haunt you. Your supervisor does not need to know about your date last Saturday or your nasty divorce.
6. Don't follow the leader. Your supervisor may be belting them down one after another but that doesn't give you an open door to do the same. People tend to judge another person harsher than they do themselves. Don't give your boss an opportunity to form a negative opinion of you. Fair or not, don't assume you can drink as much as the person signing your paycheck.
7. No means no. Don't insist on ordering another round of drinks for the table when your client or coworkers have said they have had enough. It doesn't make you look generous, but instead makes you look pushy and sends the message you are trying to keep the evening going past the organic close of the night.
8. Have a snack before you leave the office. Drinking on an empty stomach may cause you some personal and professional discomfort. Grab a power bar from your desk or a quick snack, and take advantage of the nuts and pretzels at the bar. Don't try and drink on an empty stomach or you will find yourself lightheaded and unable to concentrate.
9. Interns are not equal players. Be careful not to include the interns, or if you do (they must be of legal age), don't offer, or put pressure on them to drink. Most interns aren't even of drinking age and you will put your company in a legal bind should something happen. The university will also be very displeased that you used poor judgment with their student and you will find yourself on the intern black list.
10. Avoid office gossip. There are plenty of things to talk about besides your opinion of your coworkers. Though it may seem harmless, you'll be surprised at how fast news will travel, long after the fun of the evening has worn off. Stick to more polished topics of conversation instead, and if you must talk about the office, keep it professional.

For more timely etiquette tips, refer to my blog, connect with me here on Huffington Post and Tweet with me @dianegottsman.