How to Navigate Happy Hour When You're the Boss It's good to loosen up with the team, just not too much.

By Jacqueline Whitmore

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It's Friday afternoon and the entire gang is going out for happy hour. Do you go along or take a rain check and get another hour's worth of work in before the end of the day?

You don't want to lose your credibility as the leader, yet you don't want to be seen as a party-pooper. Just what are the rules for participating when you're the boss?

Your role when you're out of the office might be tricky, so here are a few quick guidelines that will help you enjoy your time out and maintain your professionalism at the same time.


If the office is heading out for happy hour, you should go too. A lot of the bonding activity within an organization is made at the bar versus the boardroom, so even if you don't drink, go along for the camaraderie.

Stay professional.

Always remember that you are still the leader, so set the standard for behavior. Even though it is after hours and alcohol is likely involved, your office happy hour is still a business function. Have fun but don't let the good times roll away from you.

Maintain your professionalism. Carry your office code of professionalism over to happy hour. Don't flirt with co-workers, use bathroom humor or gossip about someone not present. If you are drinking, be careful that the alcohol does not loosen your tongue to where you are saying things that are inappropriate or could be misconstrued. In other words, be your best self.

Related: 7 Things That Make Great Bosses Unforgettable

Drink responsibly.

You are not going to the bar to get intoxicated, so sip rather than guzzle your drink. That way you can make one or two drinks last a long time. Even better, if you don't want to drink, fake it. Tonic water with a lime makes a pretty good visual substitute for a gin and tonic. This is not the time to let it all hang out with "shots for all."

Along this same line, do not push alcohol on others. If someone chooses not to drink, help defend their choice. Don't ask questions or make them feel guilty. Help others drink responsibly too. If you see someone overindulging, step in or offer to call a cab or drive them home.

Eat before you go.

Eating even a little something before you go out to happy hour yields two good results. First, having food in your stomach will mitigate the effects of alcohol. Second, you won't be tempted to drink more, scarf down the bar snacks or order unhealthy foods just because you're hungry. Use this time to talk and network instead of eating.

Related: 7 Ways to Go From a Boss to a Leader

Avoid therapy sessions.

Alcohol can reduce a person's inhibitions. If someone begins to "let it all hang out," steer them in another conversational direction. Don't try to be their therapist and solve all their problems. If they complain about a business issue, ask them to table it until you're back in the office.

Don't be the last to leave.

Make a graceful exit earlier rather than later in the evening. This allows your co-workers to relax once the boss is gone and sends a responsible message. Wish everyone a good evening and then exit gracefully.

With these simple guidelines, after-hours events should be enjoyable and they will provide excellent opportunities to get to know your co-workers on a more personal level.

Related: The 5 Secrets of Great Bosses

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Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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