my employer encourages everyone to get drunk at company events

A reader writes:

I have an odd situation at my new job. I recently started working at a small company in a major metropolitan area. My company sponsors happy hours during work hours (typically they start at 3:30/4PM in the kitchen in our office and can go until 10 or 11 at night) where lots of alcohol is provided. These happy hours often get very raucous — in short, everyone gets stinking drunk. This happens about twice a month. There are never any incidents or fights or anything that typically happen in a room full of drunk people — it’s just a good time with coworkers.

In addition to that, a few times a year my company hosts outings (professional sports games, picnics, boat rides, etc.) where copious amounts of alcohol is available and the general idea is for everyone to get drunk. They provide bus service to the event and it is strongly encouraged that a friend or family member pick you up afterward. I have been to several of the happy hours and I have drunk well beyond what is typically acceptable at a professional function — but I am also confused because everyone is drunk and they are encouraging it.

An outing is coming up soon and this is the first non-happy hour that I will be attending. It is a picnic on a dock. I have been hearing stories recently of the funny moments from years past which include such tales as the woman from accounting who vomited all over the floor of the bus, the senior exec who got so drunk he ran headfirst into a post, the junior exec who started addressing every woman as “bitch,” the administrative assistant who took all of the food and ran off with it, etc.

I am wondering if this is something I should be attending? I don’t want to embarrass myself in such a way, but I feel as though if I decide not to go then I will look like I am not a team player or do not want to interact with my coworkers. How does one behave in professional situations where it is encouraged that employees get drunk?

Your company has questionable judgment.

While I have nothing against anyone drinking if that’s what they feel like doing, a company encouraging drinking to excess at its own events is asking for all sorts of bad things to happen — from unprofessional behavior, at a minimum, to sexual harassment, drunk driving, injuries, fights, and other problems. Sure, probably not all of those, but spin a wheel and pick randomly from the list. None seem good. And that’s to say nothing of simply alienating employees who don’t particularly want to get drunk or be around drunken coworkers.

(That said, it’s clearly provided you with delightful stories about bad behavior, and I would like to hear more of them.)

In any case, I’m curious about whether you might find that there are others in your office who either don’t go to many of these, go but abstain from the drinking, or don’t go at all. I’d ask around and see if you can find other people who aren’t as gung-ho about this, and also try to find out whether there are any unofficial repercussions to not showing up or leaving early.

And if you do decide to attend, that certainly doesn’t obligate you to drink or get drunk. It sounds a bit like you drank more than you were comfortable with because you felt expected to … but this is not a fraternity hazing. You should feel perfectly comfortable not drinking or not having more than one or two drinks if that’s your preference. Stop when your judgment tells you to stop, totally regardless of whatever antics are going on around you.

If it turns out that people make you uncomfortable about that (aside from one or two loony outliers, whose opinions you can dismiss), that’s a signal that something is indeed very wrong here.

{ 162 comments… read them below }

  1. dejavu2

    Go and don’t drink. I’ve been to parties like this. If you’re not drinking… well, everyone else will be so drunk that they won’t notice. Get there, shove a beer in a cozy, crack it open, and then either nurse it or pretend to nurse it for the duration of the event.

      1. voluptuousfire

        Or put a can of soda in the beer cozy. As long as you’re drinking from something and everyone’s tanked anyway, no one will notice. :)

    1. The IT Manager

      This is what I would do. That said I don’t like the taste of beer and zero desire to be drunk so its really easy for me to do this. (I’m enough of a control freak and have no tolerence for embaressment that I can’t fathom a desire to be loosened up so far as to get out of control.

      If its hard for you to resist the lure of drinking and getting drunk when surrounded by drunks, you may want to stay away or make a plan to leave early. Because this sound like an accident waiting to happen and you don’t want to be the one enagaging in bad behavior or the victim of some bad behavior. There are bells that can’t be unrung and you don’t want to be involved in any of those incidents that affect your future at the job or simply being comfortable with your co-workers every day.

      1. dejavu2

        “If its hard for you to resist the lure of drinking and getting drunk when surrounded by drunks” . . . then you should probably find a different job and consider checking out an AA meeting.

    2. PJ

      I hardly drink at all. There is nothing worse than being sober in a group of drunks, unless it’s being in a group of rowdy drunks.

      If this were my company, I’d stay home, and give strong consideration as to whether this company was a good culture fit for me.

      No, I stand corrected. The worst thing is coming in to work the next day and listening to folks tell about all the “hilarious” things done by drunk people.

      Not a team player? I definitely do NOT want to play on that team.

      OP, IMO you have a larger question to answer for yourself beyond whether or not to attend the party.

      1. Elizabeth West

        If this were my company, I’d stay home, and give strong consideration as to whether this company was a good culture fit for me.

        Yeah, me too. I’m not above having a drink (although I rarely do because I’m usually driving), but this is excessive. I dislike hanging out with people who can only have fun if they’re blasted.

        1. Twentymilehike

          “I dislike hanging out with people who can only have fun if they’re blasted.”

          Exactly why I hang out with so few of my old friends. And why I dreaded my Old Job’s holiday parties. People really do not realize how annoying they are when they are drunk ….

          I’m lean on the side of clear boundaries between work and social lives. When my coworkers talk about xyz that they did without me, I remind myself that I have my own awesome social life that I’m perfectly happy with. I’d rather not get too personal with coworkers, and being around hammered coworkers is way to personal for me. And I really don’t think it effects our working relationships negatively at all.

          1. Jessica

            “People really do not realize how annoying they are when they are drunk …. ”

            Amen. I would often be the sole sober person at a bar with friends or at a party (usually DDing). The next day, they’d be happily recounting what they thought had happened: “Remember last night when I streaked across the lawn naked and vaulted over the fire before somersaulting a couple of times on the landing? That was freaking awesome!”

            Me: “No, but I do remember your running out of the house with your pants falling off and attempting to jump over the bonfire, only to trip and fall and have to be rolled out before you caught on fire completely. That was pretty…not awesome for me.”

    3. Rana

      Yup. So long as you look like you’re participating (if you’re too obviously abstemious, then people get self-conscious and weird, I’ve found, sigh) no one will pay attention. It may be sort of boring – I don’t find watching drunk people being drunk all that entertaining, myself – but you’ll look like a team player, and that sounds like it’s important with this crowd.

      Good luck, OP, and my sympathies.

  2. Rob Bird

    It seems this is the culture your office wants. Nothing wrong with that (every business can run their business how they want too…..but there are consequences to every business decision, good or bad) but you have to decide if this a culture you want to be a part of.

  3. Lucy

    This reminds me a lot of my company, although we’re not nearly that extreme. I’ve never heard of anyone puking on a bus, but we do have large conferences and parties where alcohol is free flowing and people do partake a good amount (especially if it’s only an internal conference). But by no stretch of the imagination is it encouraged formally by the company. A lot of the debauchery happens when people go out AFTER the conferences.

    So, that being said. Coming from a similar enviornment, please don’t feel like you have to drink to excess if you feel uncomfortable doing so. We are expected to stay the entire night, especially if we’re entertaining stakeholders, but I never went through a “party stage” and I never really intend to, so I prefer to start ordering diet cokes halfway through the night while everyone else is still filling up. I encourage doing something like that.

  4. Lillie Lane

    I am just hoping there are no recovering alcohol addicts in the OP’s company! Personally, I would hate to feel somewhat pressured into drinking at work functions.

    1. Rana

      Yes! Or anyone else who shouldn’t drink alcohol, such as people taking certain medications, or people who are avoiding it due to pregnancy.

      1. Jessa

        Exactly. I cannot drink due to the medications I am on. I’d absolutely hate this. On the other hand I have no problem being the “I’ll get all youse drunken bums home tonight” person. But I despise being made to feel one out or made fun of for not drinking or having to explain myself. If my reason was “I don’t want to,” it should be just as valid. I should not have to justify not drinking.

  5. Rich

    I’m a fan of “beverages” in the office later in the day later in the week, but this sounds crazy. My HR radar is going crazy with the risks from encouraging people to get S-faced. AAM covered some of them.

    As for the outing, I’d suggest going but not getting blitzed. Like dejavu2 said, get one beverage and nurse it, or have a couple. Don’t get lured into shots or shotgunning, or keg stands, or any of the other nonsense you may be asked to participate in. Worst case, say you have something to do the next day and can’t afford to be dehydrated and headachy.

  6. bearing

    “(That said, it’s clearly provided you with delightful stories about bad behavior, and I would like to hear more of them.)”

    Dear AAM,
    I frequent a popular employment advice column. Lately it’s seemed that the columnist is encouraging her readers to take part in questionable company activities in order to mine them for delightful stories of bad behavior for her advice columns. Should I play along?

    1. Calla

      Nowhere does she encourage the OP to go just to get bad stories. It’s clear that OP has *already* heard/witnessed entertaining stories.

  7. Jamie

    Not to be stickler – but are they actively encouraging you to get drunk or do they just not care if people do. There is a huge difference.

    And are you sure everyone is drinking to excess? Or are those just the people you notice?

    I know some people are weird if people aren’t drinking at an event that includes alcohol, but it’s a big leap from “why aren’t you drinking?” to “why aren’t you on your 6th yet, and why are you still able to stand?”

    This isn’t something I would enjoy, but then I rarely drink and have never found drunk people as amusing as they find themselves (and yes, I’ve been drunk and yes, I was one of those people). But as long as they are not encouraging people to drink and drive or engage in other dangerous activities then people are grown-ups and in charge of their own behavior.

    But if there is this much excessive drinking it’s absolutely an incident waiting to happen. People are accountable for their own actions, drunk or not, and …let’s just say I’d hate to be HR or their labor attorney.

    1. Joey

      I’ve worked at one of these places in my younger days.

      I’m wondering if the pressure to get drunk is self inflicted because of all the available alcohol and drunks around.

      But there’s a trick that you learn when you get older- if you’re limiting yourself to two sip, don’t drink. And sip the last one until you’re ready to go home. As long as you always have a drink in your hand nobody will really notice.

      1. Joey

        Oh, and Alison is right. Its just a matter of time until someone goes too far. Don’t set yourself up to that. To me, drinking with co-workers or clients is work, not play, because I’m not going to let down my guard and put my reputation at risk.

        1. Jamie

          Agreed. And it’s not just the big stuff like accidents, fights, and sex…it’s the comments you wouldn’t have made sober that your co-worker doesn’t forget the next morning.

          Some bells can’t be unrung and it’s not a good idea to lose your verbal filter amongst colleagues.

          1. Editor

            I am not a drinker, so it was easy to tell my kids not to drink, but I was concerned they wouldn’t take it seriously. So I talked a lot about losing control, using a story from a family member who woke up one morning in his own bed in a pool of vomit, a story from a workplace where drunk computer operators shared the Christmas booze with the computer by pouring a beer into an IBM mainframe (that was the last onsite office party for that department, and those involved got fired for their generosity to their imaginary friend), and a discussion of losing control of what was said or done in situations mentioned in newspaper articles. My emphasis was that I personally would not want to be in a position where I wasn’t in control.

            Whether my lessons worked or not, I don’t know, but my kids don’t drink to excess as far as I know.

            OP — If I were you, I would want to keep my drinking under control for the reason Jamie cites. Also, you do not want to be the person who urinates or vomits in front of others, walks into a post, or otherwise provides such memorable fodder for an office story that someone can’t resist sharing it when contacted for a reference. Because these stories are being retold, there’s no guarantee the story won’t be shared inappropriately.

            1. Chinook

              Wait – they served their beer to their mainframe computer? I would love to have been a fly on the wall for that disciplinary meeting. And for the times they have to answer why they left their previous job.

              Plus, everyone knows that the IT gnomes much prefer brownies and that all sacrifices should be done in fire form next to the server, never on top of it and never in liquid form.

              1. Editor

                The story I heard is that they opened some hatch and poured the libation into the machine. It wasn’t just some superficial baptism and I believe the mainframe had to be replaced or receive extensive and expensive repairs.

    2. BCW

      That was my immediate thought. I’ve worked places where people got hammered at events. But aside from providing tons of free booze, I don’t know that I’d say they encouraged it. Yeah your co-workers may work some peer pressure. But I’m curious to how exactly it is that they encourage you to get drunk. Are they like having chugging contests or something?

      1. Chinook

        I think it is more of a subtle peer pressure than an outward “you have to have another one.” I had it happen to me when I joined my mother last year when she was in town for a municipality conference. I was her date for the dinner and then we all went to her mayor’s suite after and they were all having a drink or two. True, everyone but the mayor was old enough to be my mother or father, but I was feeling awkward turning down offer of another Baileys or glass of wine. they weren’t pressuring me but it did feel weird.

  8. Tony in PA

    Sounds like a place I used to work. It was all fun and games until one of the guys totaled his car going home from drunken softball. He was OK, fortunately, but things toned down quite a bit after that. If I find myself in a professional situation where drinking is expected, I’ll go with Perrier and lime (looks like gin and tonic) or ginger ale (looks like a variety of whiskey drinks). The furthest I went was at a client function where the general manager from our customer company was ordering drinks for everyone. I slipped out for a few minutes, found and tipped the waitress to bring me non-alcoholic versions of whatever he ordered for me.

          1. class factotum

            Ah, Sheldon. Sometimes I wonder if they have spied on my husband and some of my college friends to develop his character. I love those physicists and engineers.

  9. MK

    This post is very interesting. I’m Korean-American but I sometimes read news stories of workers in Korea who drink heavily at work functions, even if they don’t want to. In the past couple of years, some women sued their employers arguing that they were subject to a hostile work environment. I’m a quasi-teetotaler so I wonder how I would respond to a culture where drinking, even heavy drinking, is socially accepted or expected. I guess the point of my comment is to note that a societal expectations play a role on employers and employees’ attitudes towards alcohol and other drugs. I personally just nurse a wine glass until a work event is over.

  10. Ruffingit

    Do the old beer can/bottle trick. Get a beer can or bottle and fill it with water then drink that all night. You can excuse yourself to the restroom or whatever and refill as needed.

    I would not find these kinds of events fun or entertaining and frankly would think they are dangerous. They’re hosting a drinking party on a dock? Totally good idea (not, at all) to mix people who get stinking drunk in a place where they can drown. Seems like the liability here would be a concern to the company, but apparently not.

    1. Jamie

      Kind of like the opposite of someone putting vodka in a water bottle and pretend you’re not drinking.

      Not something I would do, but I can’t imagine being in that culture so I don’t know. I’d personally just nurse a tonic all night – no one is going to lab test it to see if there is vodka in there.

  11. Liz in the City

    I work at a place that has occasional happy hours and other events where drinking happens in the office. While everyone is encouraged to get a drink, if someone refuses with an “I’m fine” or sticks to water, no one pushes them further. I’m sorry your place doesn’t sound like that.

    OP, I think you should set a limit for yourself ahead of time about how much you’re going to drink (whether it’s nothing, 1, 2, etc.), then STICK to it. Find a work buddy who is similarly trying to limit their intake will help too, since these social situations can lead to more social drinking and less resolve. To head off pressure to drink more, have a stable of good excuses or props: a filled glass that’s water (but looks like vodka or gin), sipping your 1st drink all evening, saying you have a busy day or early morning the next day, say you’re feeling a bit under the weather, etc. (I know some of these are lies, but I also know how pushy drunk people can be.) If someone gives you another drink, pour it out or don’t drink it. I promise no one is watching how much you drink.

    At my work, I keep myself accountable by setting a limit (only 1 drink in X hours), since I have to drive myself and I need to be safe.

  12. Anonymous

    Wow, I thought most companies frowned upon drinking too much in this day and age. I guess the “Mad Men” era is still alive and well. Where can I apply for a job in your company ? :))

    1. Chinook

      Newspapers are bad/good for this. It is the only place I have ever worked where there was a stash of coolers next to the coffee machine (only opened after the paper has gone to press or after a stressful day) or where one of the perks was getting a free pass to a 4 day concert festival that included a lot of booze (because we were a sponsor) along with the great music and the awkwardness of sharing a camper with my (female) boss. That was still the best perk ever, though, cuz I got within 10 feet of Paul Brandt’s performance, got to see Larry the Cable Guy and have Trace Adkins as background music while talking business.

      And that folks, certainly makes me a redneck!

  13. kristinyc

    When I first read this, I thought the OP might be from my company. Our CEO did (and encouraged others to do) keg stands at our last outing.

    I usually go to the events (because being “fun” is a huge part of our corporate culture, and it’s expected that people go if they’re in town), but keep drinking to a minimum. But yeah – it makes me a little uncomfortable too. Most people who don’t want to get wasted with co-workers show up for the first hour or two, and then slink out when things start to get crazy. Totally fine! The average age at my company is in the low-mid 20s, but for those of us older than that, no one really expects us to party that hard. Luckily, we’re in NYC and no one has to drive home, so we don’t have to worry about that.

    1. Jamie

      Even though no one has to drive home, I wouldn’t want one of my kids stumbling home on public transportation impaired.

      It’s official, I’m 100 years old…if only these damn kids would get off my lawn…

      1. KellyK

        Don’t have kids, but I feel the same way. Walking or taking public transit drunk is safer than driving, but that doesn’t make it a *good* idea.

        Guess I’m 100 years old too.

        1. Chinook

          Now that I think of it, having one too many was how I ended up taking the long way around on a Tokyo subway once. Luckily, that train moved in a circle.

    2. Editor

      Have you seen the fatality statistics for drunk walking? Unless the path home is along a trail that doesn’t abut public highways, accidents can easily happen to intoxicated pedestrians.

      1. Cat

        There are a lot of different levels of intoxicated. I – and a lot of people, I think – am very cautious about driving after drinking; there’s a LONG distance between where I wouldn’t feel good driving and where I’d be in any more danger than usual walking or taking public transit.

      2. Lizabeth

        I think the Freakonomics guys did a podcast where “friends don’t let friends walk home drunk” but I can’t find it right now…back to work :)

      3. Chinook

        I think there was an episode of ER where a Ray lost his legs when he was drunk walking and texting and didn’t look both ways before crossing the street.

          1. Anonymous

            OMG I’m still so freaked out by helicopters because of ER. It still makes me cringe to this day!

      4. SerfinUSA

        There are some examples of historical drunk-walking in this book: At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.

        People tried to time parties for full moons so attendees could safely walk or ride the mile or so between villages, but drunk people routinely fell into open cesspits, ditches, cellar doors while stumbling home in the dark.

        1. Editor

          I am reading At Day’s Close right now and am finding it very interesting. And I’m feeling grateful I don’t live where there are open cesspits or open sewer ditches in the middle of roads.

  14. Lauren

    You know honestly I don’t think you should hide the fact that you aren’t drinking. so what? But to the extent that you take a bottle of something else and fill it with water? Maybe this place needs a reminder that not everyone likes to drink that much. Sure drink pop all night. But don’t pretend it’s actually an alcoholic beverage. What if you were in recovery?

    My office is hard drinking too. And I rarely drink. I don’t hide it and no one bothers me about it. But even if they did no way would I hide the fact that I’m drinking a non-alcoholic beverage. That’s completely absurd.

    1. JAM

      Thank you for saying this! I was about to leave the same comment. I don’t drink. I’ve never drank. People know it and (generally) don’t care and don’t harass me about ordering a soda instead of alcohol. Why would I try to act like I’m drinking when I’m not? It just seems like such a stupid thing to try to fake.

      1. Jamie

        I wouldn’t do it myself, because I wouldn’t care if people knew I wasn’t drinking – but I get why some people would.

        Sometimes it’s just so people will shut the heck up.

        I’m weird about food – I don’t like eating at gatherings, I’m extremely particular about what I am and aren’t eating. No rhyme or reason to it that I can explain, I’m just extremely weird about food. And yes I’ve taken a plate and moved stuff around not eating anything, and I’ve lied and said I’ve already had some – just to stop the conversation.

        Why aren’t you eating?
        Don’t you like it?
        Try this, you’ll love it. No, really, try. I know you think you won’t like it, but you will.
        Are you dieting? How much weight have you lost?
        Are you sick?
        Is it a religious thing?
        It won’t kill you to try a little.
        Too good to eat with everyone else?

        Seriously – stfu all people who do that. If no one is making a stink and quietly minding their own business just stfu. So if people were doing that with drinking I can totally see why people would want to fake it.

        1. Ruffingit

          This is the reason I recommended “faking it” above. As someone who does not now nor has ever been a drinker, the comments you receive are totally asinine and ridiculous. They are basically the same comments Jamie outlined above regarding food. People in environments where a lot of drinking goes on, such as the one the OP describes, often become downright hostile to people who aren’t drinking. It can get irritating and one way to shut that down completely is to fake it so you don’t have to deal with the shitty comments all night long.

        2. JAM

          +1.

          And trust me – I’ve gotten that plenty in the past re: not drinking. Maybe it’s not that I get fewer comments about it from people now than I did when I was younger, but it might just be that I care less about it. Or that I’m better at shutting them up at “Because I don’t.” after they ask “Why don’t you drink?” Or maybe I’ve become so numb I don’t even notice anymore.

          I’ve seriously tried to come up with a comment that would make them feel really bad about prying about such a personal thing. (Hell, not only could I have a drinking problem and not drink for that reason, but I could be or suspect I’m pregnant; I could be taking medications that can’t mix with alcohol; I could have a religion that forbids it; I could have lost someone in a drunk driving accident…none of these are personally true, but they don’t know that when they ask. And none of them are their business, anyway.) I was thinking of going with something along the lines of: “Why don’t you drink?” “My sponsor would probably frown on that.” Or: “I probably shouldn’t drive drunk to AA .” Just something that would really make them feel bad about asking in the first place. :)

          1. Felicia

            Even the question “why don’t you drink?” bothers me because it carries the assumption that because I don’t want to is not a good enough answer and there has to be a specific reason. I also happen to not eat fish (i also don’t like it), and I never get a “why don’t you eat fish?” comment. I find people are more accepting of medical or religious reasons than simply not enjoying it.

            1. Emsz

              I don’t drink. Mainly because I don’t like it, but also because I really don’t want to.
              When I tell people I don’t like it, I’ve been told things like: ‘Beer is something you need to learn how to drink!’
              Really? If it doesn’t taste good after the first half-a-glass/glass, why on earth would I keep drinking?!

              1. Ruffingit

                That’s always been my theory as well. I don’t care to learn to like a food/drink. Either I enjoy it immediately or I don’t. There’s no reason for me to learn to like alcohol.

                1. Felicia

                  Exactly! If you dont like it, what is the point of making yourself like it? And it”s not like I’ve never tried drinking alcohol before. I’ve tried many kinds and I still don’t like it. And why are you assuming everyone can learn to like it? You don’t say you need to learn to like other foods/beverages you don’t like

                2. Jessica (the celt)

                  Exactly. I’ve never liked alcohol, but I’ve been told that beer is an acquired taste. I already have enough food issues, so I just don’t “acquire tastes.” If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. I’m not eating or drinking something I don’t like in the hopes that eventually I will like it. I’ve learned in the past (thanks, Mom!) that forcing myself to eat something I hate leads to unpleasant consequences.

            2. Parfait

              Yes, but are you going to all-you-can-eat seafood buffets with colleagues and just pushing your salad around?

          2. Lauren

            Or you could do what I do. I’m a child of an alcoholic who never went to rehab. My entire childhood revolved around him getting the next drink and I really don’t want to live like that as an adult.

            It shuts them up.

          3. AF

            Yes – or “I don’t want to look like a drunk idiot like you do.” I think they’re all just trying to “fit in” and, as Rana says below, they are actually insecure. This may be wishful thinking, but perhaps the OP could be a trendsetter – a good example for those who may not actually want to drink but also feel pressured to.

            1. HR Generalist

              I don’t pressure people to drink, but I’ll often politely ask if someone wants one if I’m having one myself. My sister-in-law pulls those lines and it’s so frustrating. She has never been a drinker and insists that anyone who does is below her.
              Just because I’m having a drink doesn’t mean I’m trying to fit in, I just like to have a beer now and then and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It also doesn’t mean I look like “a drunk idiot” and using those lines makes you look like a pretentious jerk. No one should be pressuring anyone either way, but if I ask you why you aren’t having a drink you don’t need to respond with a line intended to shock me- you can just say, “I just don’t feel like it” and I’ll move on with my day.

        3. NewToThis

          THIS!

          I’m not a drinker, I’ll have the occasional cocktail but other than that I don’t like alcohol. I’m also weird about food as well and refuse to eat anything people have brought in to work (I hate potlucks) and constantly hear these things.

          I really wish people would just shut up and stop questioning others. Although I have no problem telling people “no thanks, I don’t drink,” I can understand why one might choose to fake it. I’ve been in the position before where I had to nurse a drink in order for me to keep calm after I was repeatedly asked why I’m not drinking/drunk. Needless to say, I don’t go partying for this reason, which is difficult when you’re 21.

          1. Rana

            My working theory is that the people who do this are insecure about their own choices, and thus take your abstention as some sort of commentary. If you don’t drink, you’re sending the message that there’s something wrong with people who do; if you don’t eat dessert, ditto, and so on.

            It’s stupid, but I’ve had enough people get angry at me for “judging” them (when I’m not – I’m just doing my own thing) to suspect that’s behind a lot of the weirdness.

            1. Diane

              You’re so right — and I get this all the time as a vegetarian. People spend the whole conversation telling me they don’t eat much meat. I don’t care what they eat, but I don’t want to hear about it either.

        4. Lauren

          I’m stubborn tho. I simply won’t cave just because it’s easier. I am quite happy to teach people etiquette if it comes to that. ;)

    2. PuppyKat

      You all beat me to it. I don’t drink, never have, and don’t need to carry around a faux alcoholic drink. Also, I’m happy to briefly explain to anyone that I don’t drink, but don’t ever feel the need to apologize for it.

      This company sure sounds like one my husband used to work for. And I’m sure it has a lot of great things going for it. But I also hope that prospective employees are clued in about the party-hearty culture during the interview process. It’s just my opinion, but I detest being around drunk people and I would be miserable working at someplace like this.

    3. Bea W

      Hiding the fact that you don’t drink also misleads people into thinking you drink, which just encourages them to keep offering you drinks and inviting you to go drinking with them. Most adults won’t care if you are holding a soda or a beer or if give you a hard time for declining alcohol. If they do, it’s time to stop going to the parties and consider whether it’s time to start looking for workplace culture that is a better fit.

      1. Ruffingit

        I agree that one should look for a better culture and fit, but that is not the easiest thing to do – as we’ve learned from the blog, the job search can take a long time. Therefore, I have no problem with people “faking it” to get through a drinking culture while they look for something else.

        Having always been a non-drinker, I’ve seen all the reactions from people who don’t care to people who simply will not let it go and will question you to the point where it feels like you’re being interrogated. And yes, you can sometimes shut that down, but it also depends on who you’re talking to – boss or CEO requires a much more delicate touch than your annoying co-worker.

        So, at the end of the day, it’s a judgment call on whether you should fake it or not and I don’t pretend to know which of those is appropriate for everyone. Do what works for you is my motto!

  15. Craig

    First of all, there’s no way I’m going to stay in the office until 11pm, party or not.

    Secondly, I’ve been to parties like this and the expectation is to drink like a fish. Rather than being subjected to teasing, I would simply not go. People can tell when you are faking it.

    When asked why you don’t want to attend a “Happy Hour”, just say because you want to go home to family.

    1. Ruffingit

      Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. If the unwritten rule of the office is that you attend these parties and you start declining the invites, you can find yourself in a bad place at your job. Alison has covered some of these issues under the heading of cultural norms of workplaces. Unfortunately, some workplaces will say “Oh, you can turn down the invite, it’s no big deal” but in truth it’s a very big deal and you’ll pay for it later with being left out of the loop on projects, etc. Sucks, but it happens.

      1. JM in England

        This is the very reason I ask probing questions about the workplace culture when I’m interviewing.

      2. Windchime

        That would be a terrible culture fit for me, then, and I would have to look for another job. The kind of drinking described by the OP doesn’t sound like a business Happy Hour, it sounds like a frat house.

  16. Anonymous

    This sort of sounds like my first job out of college, with outings and social hours where alcohol was provided. The office culture definitely showed a preference for the party type, and managers seemed to favor workers who drank and partied with them versus people who didn’t. In situations like that, no one was actively pressured to get drunk, but it seemed like you needed to party to fit in and advance with the company.

    Personally, while I like a little “social lubricant” when meeting new people at work functions or bonding with a team, I didn’t feel comfortable getting drunk with my boss or attending parties he threw at his apartment, to me that crossed a line.

    1. ADE

      Did we have the same workplace?? My former workplace also had an in group/out group culture, where the in group partied with the boss, got preferential treatment, etc. and the out group did not.

      I think I was kind of lucky, though- not only was I in the outgroup, but I was SO DENSE ABOUT THESE THINGS not to realize I was in the out group until a few weeks before my planned transition. Sometimes ignorance is bliss!

  17. Mena

    Company parties are NOT the place to get yourself drunk (you can do that any other night of the week). Just, go, hang out, nurse one drink and socialize. Then go home at a reasonable hour. You do NOT want to be the subject of one of those stories …

    1. JM in England

      Agreed Mena!

      In fact, at many of the places where I have worked, the company handbook stated that appropriate behaviour was expected even at work related functions; in effect, you were still representing the employer even if you were not on their premises.

      Like many other posters on this topic, I too rarely drink and never want to be fodder for the office gossip machine; it’s much more fun having others do that :-).

      As an aside, I had a strong incentive not to drink too much at one works Christmas do in that I was wearing a hired tuxedo and wanted to get my (fairly substantial) deposit back. Also, I’ve witnessed a couple of instances where coworkers puked on the bus back from the venue; in both cases, the bus company (quite rightly) billed the offenders directly for the cleaning!

  18. Lily in NYC

    I used to work at a national news magazaine (hint hint, Alison freelances for them a lot) and they had a keg party every Friday while we were waiting for the issue to close and go to the printer’s. It was a heavy drinking culture – the editors had whiskey every day at 5, constant happy hours, and the office parties were raucous drunk-fests. However, no one held anything against anyone afterwards. No one cared if you drank or not. No one cared if you made an ass out of yourself. It was simply the culture there. But I do think people assume other people care if you aren’t imbibing when I have never found that to be the case.

    1. Ruffingit

      I have found it to be the case unfortunately. I do not drink at all and people seem to find that to be of great interest. I don’t make a thing out of it or even say it, but it gets noticed that I ordered club soda or whatever and the questions come fast and furious and so do the inane comments a lot of the time.

      This isn’t true everywhere, but having experienced it in some places, I can say for certain that not only do some people notice, but they comment on it incessantly.

      1. Felicia

        Not everyone notices, but some people do. And they ask “Why aren’t you drinking?” when the tone sounds like they’re really saying “wtf is wrong with you?” . I never mention it but people notice if I don’t order alcohol or refuse an alcoholic beverage. Even asking why after someone says no thank you comes across a bit judgey to me. And then I say I dont like alcohol and they say “how can you not like alcohol?” as if they didn’t believe me. So although it doesn’t make sense to expect judgement for not drinking everywhere, it makes sense to expect that you can encounter that judgement at some point, and the OP’s workplace sounds like the type of place that might happen.

  19. ChristineSW

    Alison, you sure are getting some crazy stories lately!! (no I have not read this post yet–just the title alone is enough!)

  20. Del

    Oh man, you have my sympathy, OP. I gave up drinking a year or two ago (religious reasons; I’d been not particularly adherent before but decided to tighten up on myself) and suddenly occasions centered around alcohol got really awkward for me.

    Honestly, my advice would be not to hide that you aren’t drinking, but also don’t treat your non-drinking like a big deal. If everyone’s ordering beers and you opt for a coke, just opt for the coke. If people ask, shrug and say “I don’t really feel like drinking tonight” and change the subject. A couple times of this will generally get people off your back. No big story, but no bones about it either.

    Plus, depending on what kind of tomfoolery is going down, it’s very possible to still have fun and get silly without being drunk. Sober doesn’t mean stick in the mud!

  21. Angelina Retta

    Take lots of photos of the drunken idiots and post them on Facebook. Tagged, of course.

  22. Anon

    Wait, the party’s on a dock?! Getting a large group of sloppy drunk people near a body of water sounds like a very, very bad idea to me…

    1. Editor

      Yes. I was wondering who the designated lifesaver is. I hope the site has a couple of shepherd’s crooks to haul out those incapable of hauling out themselves.

      1. fposte

        50/50 on whether the drunk with the long pole saves the person in the water or smacks ’em with it.

  23. Cody C

    A similar environment at my last job and I found that if I stationed myself near the bar/keg/cooler not only could I nurse one beer all evening but I got to talk to everyone at the party without feeling like I was butting in. I held legs for keg stands popped many a top on wine coolers for the ladies and beers for the Gents and all along nursed my one Shiner Bock and it puts you in prime position for seeing first hand the action you can recount to Allison later.

    1. Rana

      I follow that strategy with regards to the food at parties. One, you’re there by the food! Two, everyone else comes to get food eventually, so it’s an easy way to mingle without cruising around, hovering at the edge of groups, and so on.

  24. Anon for this

    At my current job, the company provides an open bar at a hotel after the training week. The new trainees, the owner and other employees are all there. Getting drunk is encouraged, and after the bar closed the owner invited us all to his house (and let one of the new hires, the least drunk, drive his expensive car there) to continue the party. several people went swimming in his pool with their clothes on. I got the feeling he mostly socializes with his employees (who are younger than him)

    1. Ruffingit

      Choosing the least drunk person to drive his car is so disturbing. I’m really glad nothing bad happened in that scenario.

  25. Anon

    I agree with a lot of the above – my old company was filled with heavy drinkers and I loved in-office happy hours or the occasional “hey, team, it’s been a tough week let’s go get beers” or welcoming a new employees, saying goodbye, … etc. Yes, we liked to drink. However, I always erred on the side of professional, stuck to a healthy buzz (much like I did anytime I went out) and watched myself specifically around my superiors so I didn’t say anything stupid. I do the same – have a few drinks then slow down, grab a water and some soda or stick a lime in fizzy water and tell people it’s a gin and tonic. No one ever REALLY questions you, and if they do, they’re an immature idiot. Find more mature coworkers and you’ll be fine.

    1. Jamie

      TBH I can’t think of a more boring topic of conversation than what people are or aren’t drinking or eating. Except lawncare.

      Tied. Tied with lawncare and pros and cons of various freezer bags for boring conversation.

      1. the gold digger

        Bad topics:
        1. Other peoples’ vacations
        2. Other peoples’ children
        3. Other peoples’ pets

        Good topics:
        1. Boss horror stories
        2. Stupid things people have done while drunk
        3. The weird things people say on the bus (I overheard yesterday, “Then he slept with her best friend and now he’s paying child support for twins.”)
        4. Bad former boyfriends, like my friend who was engaged to a guy she discovered had a fetish for amputees when she saw he had drawings all over his apartment of celebrity women with missing limbs. She broke off the engagement.
        5. Omigosh is that still Luke on General Hospital, the same Luke who raped Laura and then married her?

          1. Jessica (the celt)

            What are other weird things you’ve overheard on the bus? My husband laughs at me, because I often say, “Did you just hear that conversation?” when we’re walking down a hallway or eating somewhere. I’m not eavesdropping, because I’m following our conversation and fully participating. It’s just that I hear a smidgen of conversation that is completely odd, and it piques my interest. (This happens most often when the other party is on the phone, though, so I am only hearing one side, often very loudly, which only makes it worse.)

      2. Heather

        “Oh, you;re just having a salad? Don;t you want a hot dog?”
        “So, are slider top bags worth the money? Target has a coupon…”
        Jaime has just scripted my next public food interaction.

      3. dejavu2

        I dunno. A friend recently spent 30 minutes telling me in great detail about how the plumbing in her house works. That should also be on the list.

      4. Brightwanderer

        Have you actually had the freezer bag conversation? Because I kind of want to hear that story.

        1. Jamie

          Yep. Play date when my kiddos were small a couple of other moms…I was a Navy wife and new on base so I’d just met them and with a 4 and 2 year old as well as a newborn I was thrilled to have some adult conversation.

          20 minutes about various freezer bags vs saran wrap vs aluminum foil. I thought they were kidding, like this was satire of what “housewife” conversation should be. They were not kidding – and they really thought that was worth discussing. For 20 minutes. Then moved to Tupperware.

          All future play dates were at the park and I brought a book. That’s how I know you can’t die of boredom…because if I could have I would have.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Wow. I’d be all right with five minutes, but then it’s like LET’S MOVE ON.

            The only thing you need to say about Tupperware is “It is awesome; buy vintage Tups at the flea market for less money.” That is all.

          2. fposte

            I once did 30 minutes with a friend’s mother on butter-flavored Crisco. I think it was one of my greatest conversational moments.

            1. Editor

              I’m impressed. I used to write a weekly food page, and I don’t think I could get more than two minutes out of butter-flavored Crisco. That stuff is revolting. Give me plain Crisco or real butter, but not their bizarrely hybrid cousin. Not that I use more than minimal amounts of either these days. Ask me about the weather instead, please…

              1. Windchime

                Yeah, I tried to make cookies with butter-flavored Crisco when it first came out, and we couldn’t gag them down. Horrible.

          3. JuliB

            I’m not a Mommy, but I would have found that discussion fascinating. But, I have a freezer that is a manual defrost, and freezer burn just doesn’t happen. Stuff lasts forever.

  26. Manda

    Ugh, I’d be running if I worked at a place like that. I don’t drink and I don’t like parties. I’d feel like such an outcast and I really wouldn’t want to be peer-pressured and then feel like people don’t like me for not playing along.

    1. Felicia

      I don’t drink and I don’t like parties either! There are a lot of us out there:) I would hate a workplace like this too. I’ve notice a lot of people seem to judge me for not drinking not accepting that I just don’t want to as a reason for why I’m not. I actually hate the taste of alcohol (which I can taste in even the sweetest drink) and don’t like loosing control of my actions. People keep insisting that I just need to find a drink I like (all the drinks they usually suggest I’ve tried and don’t like), or I don’t know what I’m missing or I’m a prude or I’m no fun. Not saying this is the case in the OPs workplace but I find in my personal life that the people who are most into drinking are the most judgmental about those who choose not to drink. Though perhaps in the OPs work theyll get so drunk that they’ll forget she wasn’t drinking

      1. Anonymous

        Thank goodness I’m not the only one! And I actually do like sweet drinks, but according to Corporette you must NEVER drink anything with a color, or people will think you’re some kind of ditsy bimbo princess.

        1. Felicia

          People say sweet drinks “don’t even taste like alcohol!” but to me I still taste the alcohol strongly and I don’t like it. I figure life is to short to drink things you don’t like:) I can tolerate the sweet drinks much better but I still don’t really like them. When I did try to enjoy drinking most of what i wouldn’t hate so much was pink or blue. I especially can’t stand the taste of beer or wine which seems to be the go to drink for most.

          1. Ruffingit

            Same here. I don’t drink at all. I can totally taste the alcohol in sweet drinks and I dislike parties. Apparently, we need to start the Homebodies Teetotaler Club on here :)

            1. Felicia

              That sounds like my kind of club! Although I’ve met people who also hate parties, I don’t know anyone who dislikes the taste of alcohol and can taste it no matter what it’s mixed with.

                1. Jessica (the celt)

                  Okay, this is perfect. I was reading comments above a few minutes ago about how people dislike the taste of alcohol and don’t drink it for that reason (which is why I don’t drink. Any alcohol at all, and I can just taste it, which ruins any drink). I turned to my husband and said, “People on here don’t drink, because they don’t like the taste. Honey, I have found our people!”

              1. Editor

                I find the taste of alcohol is very noticeable in food, and I only tolerate it in a few things. But I put up with it in something like Maida Heatter’s Black Velvet dessert. When they make 3-D printers that can produce Black Velvet, we can all stay home and celebrate together.

            2. Felicia

              Since I watch a lot of Dr. Oz, I heard that people who don’t like the taste of alcohol are probably super tasters which means we’re extremely sensitive to strong tastes and can detect bitter flavours (like alcohol) in much smaller quantities than the average person.

              1. Ruffingit

                Love Dr. Oz! And it’s interesting to hear about the connection between not liking alcohol and being super tasters. I also have a strong sense of smell as well. I’m sure it’s all related.

                1. Felicia

                  Apparently most people really can’t taste the alcohol in the drinks they say don’t taste like alcohol…it just all tastes really strong to me…even things like wine coolers that are considered nothing. He said we’re also less likely to like coffee because of the bitter (also hate coffee), and really do taste things more strongly than most

                2. Windchime

                  Hey, I hate the taste of coffee, too…it’s intensely bitter to me. I can’t even make tea in the coffee pot in the hotel room because the water is tainted with the taste of coffee that comes from the plastic parts of the pot.

                  (I do like beer and wine, though….and maybe the occasional margarita…)

  27. Mander Marsh

    Yikes, don’t overthink this one! Best case scenario, you go early and drink lightly to get “team player” face time while people are still sober enough to remember you were there. Worst case scenario (which isn’t even bad), you skip it altogether. Ultimately, it should be what you do for the team during working hours that matters most. I realize that’s not true in all cases (though I think it ought be), but that doesn’t mean you have to live your life by other people’s unhealthy priorities. Sounds cheesy, but just do your best, be true to yourself, and don’t let anyone make you do something that isn’t good for you.

  28. Anonymous

    I used to work at a company where the holiday party always had a fully hosted bar, and most of the employees were singles in their twenties. I remember an elderly employee, while watching a 20-something throw up in a potted plant, that “you can drink as much as you like and no one will say anything, but light up a cigarette and everyone will ask you to leave.” Good times…

  29. Brton3

    I am just generally confused that a company would feel the need to provide so much social activity and partying for its employees. I mean, I know there’s some of this at many companies, and for certain workplaces (Silicon Valley start-ups, for example) it’s an integral part of the culture. But why would a company be so compelled to offer elaborate happy hours twice a month, and outings, and picnics, and all this stuff? If I worked somewhere like this I would feel like I was at summer camp with all the counselors deciding “ok today is pizza party day! Next Tuesday we’re going to the petting zoo so bring back your permission slips by Monday!” It seems infantilizing.

    1. Kaci

      Companies usually do this as some sort of substitute for stuff workers really want like benefits or decent pay. They just sort of assume that young people just wanna PAAARTAAAY, and if you give them lots of chances to PAAAARTAAAAY and have fun, either they’ll forget about not having sick days or flexible hours, and if they do criticize the company for not letting them have those things, someone will say “hey, we give you guys really fun happy hours, this is a great place for young people to work, you should be happy!” to effectively shut down the conversation.

      It’s insulting, really.

  30. Shelby

    I used to work at a place like that. I don’t drink. period. But I knew if I told people that they would get pushy and insistent that I should “just try it out.” The few times I went out with co-workers, I just had the waitress put a colored straw in my diet coke – whatever straw indicated that it there was alcohol in my coke. So when people saw me with the colored straw, they assumed I had a rum and coke in my hand. That took care of the problem for me.

  31. J

    Even if you enjoy drinking, this is messed up. I like to drink, use social media, and talk about risqué subjects, but decidedly not with coworkers. I don’t like being pressured into doing these things, because essentially you’re asking someone to make themselves vulnerable to you, and trying to bypass their trust.

    Maybe it’s wrong to draw such a bright line between work friends/life and “real” friends/life, but I enjoy certain stuff that isn’t appropriate for work. I also play rugby and I don’t think my coworkers would appreciate being tackled.

  32. Linda

    I would suggest you keep a non-alcoholic drink in hand so that people aren’t tempted to offer you a drink, or perhaps try offering to be a designated driver so that your co-workers’ loved ones don’t have to drive out to the event to pick them up. You might earn a reputation as someone who’s responsible and thinks about the well-being of others.

  33. Forrest

    I was in a sorority in college. We went the all out partiers but we were the shut ins either…there was only three sororities on campus. Anyway, even at our most drunkiest, we never pressured someone to drink or tracked what anyone else was drinking. Why would we? That would mean less for us!

    I like to think most people to subscribe to the theory of “if I get someone else to eat/drink this wonderful thing, then there’s wonder for me to consume!”

    1. Chinook

      The group I hung out at university had the limited drinking thing down to a science (mostly because we were too broke). We went to the bar every week and most of us sucked baack water or would claim to be the DD and get free pop. No one ever pressured anyone to drink (well, except for the annual “drink a small town dry” event but then you knew what you were getting into when you got on the bus.)

  34. periwinkle

    Well, there are benefits to getting stinking drunk along with everyone else. My father spent some time in the military, and was once present at a big beer-soaked picnic. He stayed sober. Something happened (equipment destroyed, IIRC), and my dad nearly got courtmartialed because he was the highest-ranking sober person at the gathering and therefore was considered to be the officer in charge.

    So OP, attend the party and booze it up, but ONLY if there’s a sober manager around to take the blame.

    But seriously, don’t drink to excess or at all if you don’t want to. If anyone makes a judgmental comment about your sobriety, you can deploy a Carolyn Hax-ian “Wow… [silence]” response.

  35. Mike C.

    Bring your smart phone, and takes all sorts of pictures and videos.

    /When life gives you drunks, film them and use it to get a promotion when they sober up!

  36. Shannon

    I’ve spent my entire career in advertising. This type of workplace culture is the norm for me. We had a vendor come in today with booze & snacks for our regular Friday afternoon happy hour. A lot of booze, there was probably 10 bottles of wine alone, plus all the beers and coolers.

    1. JessB

      I’ve worked a lot in publishing, and it’s a simar drinking culture there. I really dislike it, so much so that I’m starting to wonder about asking a few questions in interviews to screen for workplaces with big drinking cultures, since I know they aren’t for me.

  37. AF

    One of the things that bothers me most about this is the fact that they’re encouraging employees to have someone to pick them up after the bus outings. What the hell?! I’d hate to be the unlucky friend who has to pick your drunk ass up several times a month/year and then not even be invited to the party as a designated driver . So when someone can’t find a ride home, do they just drive home drunk? This is really sad.

  38. Chocolate Teapot

    My company does a few after-work drinks, but they usually get cancelled as everyone is far too tired/busy to participate. I assume this means that the booze budget will be transferred to the Christmas party (posh multiple course dinner with cognac afterwards if you want it).

    The only major booze-fest I have seen was a beer festival, but even then, people were drinking but not to excess.

    I tend to start with a soft drink then move to alcohol and back again. I find it helps if you pace the alcohol.

  39. Terra

    I’m curious: If one does not drink for religious reasons (some Christian churches, Muslims, etc.) and the company pushes people to drink, can this have any legal ramifications—i.e., religious discrimination? It seems like it would be the same as pressuring Jewish people to eat ham. Coercing people to break a covenant with their God in order to be a “Team player” sure sounds like it enters into the “protected class” territory…

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Surely yes. But I’d say only if there were actual pressure. Merely throwing happy hours wouldn’t be sufficient. If there was a demonstrable harm that would come from not attending, that would also be actionable, I’d think. But if it’s just something that people think less of you if you don’t drink (which I’d think is pretty rare), that probably would be more of a bad culture fit than actual discrimination.

  40. Bystander

    You could try the go late and leave early plan, drink the pop or orange juice but leave out the liquor or use very little of it, pour your own drinks and don’t put it down or don’t pick it back up. Drunks do not like sober people around so don’t pretend to be drunk but don’t advertise that you are not drinking liquor. If someone else is making the drinks, beware and go to the bathroom to spill them out so it makes you look like you are drinking – drunk people will not notice you are in the bathroom a lot.

  41. Corporate Events

    That sounds like it’s just playing with fire… I feel like I could easily see someone turning around a man calling every woman “bitch” into a lawsuit. It’s strange to me how controlled the drunkenness seems to be at work, but some people don’t learn until they’re burned.

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