Reader Q&A: Avoiding Alcohol at Work

Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thecareerfiles@gmail.com.

Today, I answer a question from a junior employee concerned about turning down a drink at work.

Question:

I am working at my first job after college. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but so far it’s going great! I have noticed that my office tends to blow off steam and bond by going out for a drink after work. I don’t drink alcohol. Is this going to be a problem for me? What should I say if people notice I’m not drinking?

Answer:

Congrats on your new job! Work events can tend to focus on drinking whether it’s a weekly happy hour or a big client dinners. But if you don’t drink – for whatever reason – it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve seen lots of people successfully handle this in a few ways:

Option 1: Order a beverage – like a glass of club soda with lime – and sip on that. You don’t need to call attention to the fact that it doesn’t contain alcohol if you don’t want to.

Option 2: Order an alcoholic beverage and just hold it all night.

Option 3: Turn down a drink with a simple, “No thanks.” Or with “No thanks, I’m good for now.” (Adding “for now…” might invite a second offer of a drink later, but it usually stops conversation in the moment.)

Option 4: Turn down a drink and explain that you don’t drink: “No thanks, I don’t drink.”

Whatever you decide to do on any given day, the key is to be casual and treat it like a non-issue. Usually everyone else will follow suit. But…sometimes, they don’t. Here’s how this can play out if you come across someone who tries to turn it into a big deal:

Boss: Hey employee, grab a beer!

Employee: I’m good, thanks.

Boss: Are you sure? We’ve got wine too, help yourself!

Employee: I’m fine, thanks. So, what do you think of tonight’s event? Great venue, huh?

Boss: Yeah, it’s cool. You sure you don’t want a drink?

Employee: Yeah, I’m good. I don’t really drink. So, I wanted to ask you about xyz file you’re working on…

Partner: You don’t drink? What? Why?

Employee: No, I don’t. (Or, No, I don’t, due to allergies/religion/never developed a taste/etc.) I am, however, basically responsible for keeping my favorite seltzer company in business! Anyway, what’s keeping you busy these days?

Boss: Actually, I’ve got this really great new project…

In short:

The easiest way to make this a non-issue is to: (1) have some kind of beverage in your hand, even water, making it easier to turn down a drink without explanation, (2) decline casually with a smile, and (3) appear to be having a good time at the event even if gasp, you’re not drinking alcohol. Abstaining around drinkers sometimes causes the drinkers to question their own alcohol consumption. This is a them issue, not a you issue, but you may find you have a better time at alcohol-soaked work events if you maintain a low-key approach.

In the vast majority of situations, I think you’ll find that abstaining is just not a big deal or even noticeable, so don’t worry about it, and keep rocking it at your new job!

Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash

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