Posted Oct. 9, 2007 - At 5 p.m. on Fridays, many a local bar is transformed into an office hangout, as workers beeline to their booths to relax and swap stories over Heinekens and mozzarella sticks. The benefits of happy hours can go way beyond 50-cent tacos and martini specials. After-hours socializing can help boost worker camaraderie and advance workers' careers -- and experts recommend that everyone occasionally attend.
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Accept the Invitation. Carol Spieckerman, president of Newmarketbuilders, a management consulting firm, says showing up for office social functions -- even occasionally -- signals you're a team player and helps you control your reputation at work. "Continually turning down after-hours invitations often creates a vacuum waiting to be filled with speculation about your motives and personal life," she says. "Better to have a drink, chat for an hour and leave than to not show up at all."
The laid-back happy hour atmosphere also provides a perfect opportunity to bond with co-workers and rub elbows with executives. "I think the sharing of some personal information -- without going overboard -- over relaxed cocktails in an environment outside of the office goes a long way with character and business relationship building," says Suzanne Hallberg, a public relations professional. Plus, people naturally talk about work at happy hours, dishing out valuable clues about your industry.
Don't Drink? Just because alcohol is served at most happy hours and after-hours parties, that doesn't mean you have to drink, says author and workplace behavior expert John Putzier. But if you choose to skip the alcohol, don't act holier-than-thou or make others uncomfortable, he says. "You can drink tonic water and Coke and it doesn't have to be a statement." If you do decide to drink, don't ever forget you're at an office party or get too tipsy. Have a good time with colleagues, but pay attention to who you are with and what you say. If you feel yourself losing your inhibitions and feel like you might say something inappropriate, go home. Don't jeopardize your job for a $5 beer.
Watch your mouth. Try to listen 75 percent of the time and talk just 25 percent of the time, Spieckerman suggests. When you do talk, never share personal problems, gossip or flirt. "Leave with everyone feeling they know you a bit better but that you aren't that different from the way you are at work -- which is professional, good-natured, hard-working and respectful, right?"
The bottom line. Happy hours can be a great way to get ahead, but save the tequila shots for a night out with friends.