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Some sobering advice on drinking with the boss

Now that graduation is over, we figure it's a good time to go over how drinking with colleagues differs from drinking with friends.
/ Source: Forbes

Now that graduation is over, we figure it's a good time to go over how drinking with colleagues differs from drinking with friends.

While getting fall-down drunk and slurring your words in college might be acceptable behavior, it's definitely not OK at office gatherings. We're not saying don't go out for a beer with co-workers. On the contrary: Workplaces, especially an office with a young staff, can be very social places, particularly in the summer.

Going to a happy hour with your manager and colleagues is a great way to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. But be careful how much you indulge. Once you've been nicknamed the office lush, removing that label is a difficult task.

"It's one thing to have a drink and a laugh, but it's another thing to get blitzed," says Michael Ball, founder of, a California-based company that teaches employers how to manage recent graduates. "You're re-learning a behavior. In college, getting drunk is rewarded. But when you're in a workplace, there are different consequences."

That's why Brian Krueger, president of the job site, has specific rules for drinking with colleagues and at work-sponsored events. "The right number of drinks, depending on who you are, is zero or one," he says. "That's a hard message for college students who are used to going out and drinking without limits. The one-drink limit is for the person who can nurse a drink. If you're not good at knowing when to stop, don't have any alcoholic drinks."

Krueger suggests being equally cautious on job interviews. He says it's not unusual for interviewers to take a candidate out for lunch or dinner and suggest they both order a drink. When the interviewee's glass is empty, the interviewer offers another.

Krueger says it's a test. "They want to see if you're grown up or still in party mode."

There is a middle ground. At the advertising agency MRM Worldwide, the human resources department discusses with new hires what is acceptable and what isn't when drinking at office events. The agency's Los Angeles office provides its 34 employees with beer and wine at its monthly staff meetings.

That may seem surprising, but managers there consider it a way to celebrate accomplishments and talk openly in a relaxed environment. "It's not so corporate, so people do feel a bit more free to be themselves as opposed to a corporate environment, where it's stuffy," says Fern Stanford, an HR manager at MRM Worldwide.

While some new hires might think it's equivalent to an open bar, it's decidedly not. There's a no-tolerance policy when it comes to employees drinking too much and acting disorderly. Stanford says someone who does that will likely get fired.

If getting fired isn't the consequence, there are still ramifications. Being labeled the office partier will likely result in less desirable assignments and a reluctance to let you work independently. "Your business reputation is porcelain, not rubber," says Ball. "Drop it once and it's broken."