When the Of­fice Happy Hour Isn’t

The Washington Post Sunday - - Business - By Amy Joyce

Who knew “ happy hour” could be such a mis­nomer? A young pro­fes­sional from Chicago wrote in dur­ing a re­cent on­line chat, say­ing that the big non­profit group where he or she is em­ployed of­ten has large, long happy hours af­ter work. “ I’m not a big drinker, but there is of­ten a lot of pres­sure to come with them, and peo­ple make com­ments if I duck out af­ter only a cou­ple of drinks,” this per­son wrote. “ Re­cently a co- worker talked to me about how peo­ple who don’t go out af­ter work get ‘ a rep­u­ta­tion.’ . . . How would you sug­gest I han­dle this?”

I said that maybe this young pro­fes­sional, one year out of col­lege, should take heed and lis­ten to the co- work­ers. Think of th­ese happy hours as net­work­ing ses­sions. Meet new peo­ple, talk about goals, learn about a com­pany. A men­tor or two might emerge. Or a man­ager might re­mem­ber how that young em­ployee men­tioned want­ing to work on the next project at the last happy hour.

Mean­while, you don’t have to drink ( wel­come to the club- soda- and- lime club) or go to ev­ery happy hour, and you cer­tainly don’t need to stay un­til the wee hours. Af­ter all, who has the time or en­ergy? But go­ing might be good for a ca­reer.

There was a lot of neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to this idea. One man wrote to me that he doesn’t go to bars for re­li­gious rea­sons. Oth­ers were re­cov­er­ing al­co­holics who didn’t want to be ( or couldn’t be) in a bar. And many oth­ers sim­ply had a life out­side of work, with fam­i­lies they wanted to see.

But then an­other reader, who works for a large con­sult­ing firm, said he or she

of­ten gets to know other con­sul­tants at happy hours. “ I talk to peo­ple about what they are work­ing on and get to know them, so that way, when I’m look­ing for in­for­ma­tion, have a po­si­tion to staff or learn of some­thing that might in­ter­est some­one else, I know who to reach out to,” this per­son wrote. “ I’m re­luc­tant to staff peo­ple who never come to the events” be­cause they don’t see them­selves as part of a team, the reader said.

Wow. Not part of the team be­cause they don’t go to the happy hours? To to­tally ex­tin­guish thoughts of hir­ing peo­ple be­cause they aren’t so­cial is a bit hard- line.

But it’s all about net­work­ing. Many of us hate the so­cial­iz­ing and the schmooz­ing. But a lot of deals and con­tacts are made out­side of work, which is why know­ing some­one is still the most com­mon way to get a job. So learn­ing to break out of your shell and at­tend a few of th­ese events is im­por­tant. For in­stance, peo­ple may con­sider us for an­other job be­cause they see us in a dif­fer­ent light. A boss might not have known what you’re in­ter­ested in be­fore see­ing you out­side of work be­cause she never has a spare mo­ment to think about it.

And es­pe­cially for a young col­lege grad­u­ate, putting in those ex­tra hours can re­ally make a dif­fer­ence. And for those who can’t do the bar thing, how about or­ga­niz­ing a dif­fer­ent place to meet? A break­fast happy hour be­fore work? A sushi happy hour ( oth­ers can still drink while you nosh) af­ter work?

Chicago came around: “ Thanks for all of your ad­vice. The happy hours are usu­ally to cel­e­brate some­one’s go­ing away or ar­rival, or to get to­gether and com­plain about work, and that’s when there’s usu­ally a lot of pres­sure to drink ( and drink and drink), which makes me un­com­fort­able. It isn’t the kind of or­ga­ni­za­tion that uses happy hours to talk about strate­gic plans or any­thing like that. Nev­er­the­less, you’ve given me some good rea­sons to think about show­ing up more of­ten. Thank you again!”

Good luck, Chicago. Even at goin­g­away par­ties, you can make a good im­pres­sion. Work it.

BY MICHEL DU CILLE — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Think of of­fice happy hours as net­work­ing ses­sions: Meet new co-work­ers. Find a men­tor. Learn more about the com­pany. Don’t drink? Have a cof­fee klatch be­fore work in­stead.

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