7 Feb 2022

The Hazards of Office Socialising

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

Oscar Wilde

When people are thrown together in the intense atmosphere of an office, they form relationships, make friends and sometimes, unfortunately, enemies. Many workplaces seek to mitigate the more unfortunate aspects of office relationships, and to help employees cope with work-based stress, by promoting social interaction. This can range from impromptu after-work drinks, to working lunches and office parties.

Socialising is a chance to see colleagues outside the diurnal, workaday context, and to relate to them as human beings, with families, homes and outside interests. Many bosses feel that a workplace culture that encourages after-hours socialising will consolidate team spirit and help colleagues to bond with each other.

The boozy lunches and snoozy afternoons that characterised the 1980s and 1990s office culture no longer really feature in the British workplace, but undoubtedly ‘working lunches’ sometimes involve intake of alcohol, and it is wise to moderate your intake o if you want to maintain a competent demeanour or avoid any professional traps or pitfalls, which are often the result of over-enthusiastic imbibing.

It is wise for employers who are planning after-hours social events to try to ensure that the line between work and play is clearly delineated. The most obvious way of doing this is to take socialising off-site, eg to a pub, restaurant or party venue. If people are clustered around their desks drinking, even if it is after office hours, worlds will inevitably collide. You don’t want intoxicated employees to be answering the phone, spilling red wine on important documents, or replying to emails while under the influence.

If you are organising a social event, it’s always best to make it clear what it involves. Send a round robin email asking your colleagues to join you in the pub; if you are organising a party, send an invitation (this can simply be in the body of the email if it is a relatively informal event). As with all social invitations, making the nature of events absolutely clear beforehand twill avoid embarrassment or confusion.

Employees should note that a modicum of sociability ensures they are perceived as team-players, not lone wolves. But if you do find yourself participating, be aware that office socialising – whether it is after-work drinks or at a more formal, and planned party – is inevitably an occasion when the barrier between work and social life breaks down, much aided by alcohol.

Over-enthusiastic drinking means that inhibitions will evaporate; you may reveal information that is strictly private or exchange indiscreet, and possibly damaging, gossip. You may find your natural sense of work-based decorum flies out of the window, and memories of your full-throated karaoke and no holds barred dancing will haunt you the following morning. Most embarrassingly of all, sexual inhibitions may begin to dissipate, leading to a flurry of inadvisable flirtation, unseemly passes and unexpected liaisons.

Examine your behaviour in the clear light of the morning after, and resolve to accept the limitations of office life. Save spontaneity and lack of restraint for your friends, and remember that over-indulgence in alcohol and retaining a professional demeanour can be an impossible juggling act.

If your behaviour has really caused offence or embarrassment, apologise as soon as possible to all concerned. Admit the offence, express your profound regrets and reassure your colleagues that it will not happen again.

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