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A guide to drinking on the job

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I was once part of a business meeting at a restaurant where one person (a younger, junior counterpart at the table) proceeded to get absolutely wasted, while the rest of us remained stone cold sober.

Not only was the whole ordeal a bit embarrassing for everyone, but from what I heard the employee just about lost her job.

In the business world, happy hour is so much more than just cheap drinks – a casual after-work outing to a bar, or attending a corporate event, is often an important part of proving yourself and moving up the career ladder.

The key is figuring out how to handle your booze, and to know what is appropriate in certain situations and, for global employees, in particular countries.

Feel free to print this boozy etiquette guide off for your employees, your boss (because, let’s be honest, sometimes they’re the worst of the bunch) or for yourself.

Don’t overindulge

While we might associate drinking with having fun and “letting off steam”, that is not what drinking is about in professional situations.

Find the balance between enjoying yourself and remaining professional. In all likelihood your boss or colleagues will be with you, freely judging your behaviour.

On the other hand, be prepared to drink… a lot

In some countries (Russia, China and my neck of the woods, Australia and New Zealand, come to mind) it’s normal to drink a lot. In fact, it’s encouraged. Not taking part in boozing can be construed as rude, or make your hosts think you are weak for not taking part.

Social drinking is a huge part of many cultures and because hosts feel a responsibility to show you a good time, this often involves alcohol.

It’s a bonding activity and if you refuse alcohol completely, there is a very real possibility it could negatively affect your business dealings or working relationships.

If all else fails and you really don’t want to drink – or can’t drink – make up a medical excuse.

Don’t drink immediately after jumping off the plane

This is easily the most common mistake made by people travelling for business, particularly if they rush to a meeting immediately after jumping off a plane, dehydrated and tired.

Newsflash: You WILL get drunk. If you don’t want to, have a couple and then stop. Sleep off your jet-lag and you’ll be able to better handle your booze the following day.

There’s nothing that says “I can’t handle anything like a professional” like a drunk employee falling off their chair at a meeting.

Know when alcohol is off the table

This sort of goes without saying, but when heading to some Muslim countries, understand the legalities and social appropriateness when it comes to alcohol.

Some countries are more lenient than others, but make sure you stay on top of local laws (which can change quite frequently).

I have heard of a number of people in places like UAE and Saudi Arabia thinking that they’re drinking in private, but have found themselves in trouble. Don’t be that person.

Learn how to drink like Europeans

In countries like Italy, France and Germany, people have a rather relaxed attitude towards the booze – to the point where some organisations actually offer alcohol to employees throughout the day.

However, it’s not often you will see businesspeople in these countries drinking to excess, even though they might be sipping all day. It’s all about moderation, eating enough food, and drinking enough water at the same time.

No matter what, stay professional

It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a casual lunch, or are at a glitzy company D&D, your reputation is always being judged – and will always be remembered (unless your companion gets more drunk than you).

Even if your boss is throwing back the beers like there’s no tomorrow, there’s no pressure for you to do the same. He’s already the boss, you’re not, so don’t jeopardise your chances.

Learn to love beer

Travelling to Germany? Or England? Or Australia? Or just about any country that is known for celebrating the joyous beverage that is beer?

In a business meeting, beer is likely to be the drink of choice. If you’re not usually a beer drinker, I’m afraid you might have to learn to love it… even if you only partake in a single pint.

And if all else fails, just use my ultimate rule of thumb when it comes to any corporate minglers: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

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Rebecca Lewis
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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