Leadership Caffeine-6 Reasons Why You Should Pass on the Happy Hour Invite

image of a coffee cupJust say “No” to the post-work invite from the team to join them for a beer. While you’ll feel torn because you enjoy social time as much as the next person, pay attention to that little voice in your mind trying to get your attention with, “You shouldn’t, you’re the boss.”

No moralizing here. I’ve simply known too many who shut this voice out and paid with their credibility and on a few occasions, their jobs.

I understand  that this philosophy is likely to result in my winning “Curmudgeon of the Year,” in the leadership blogger category, however, I’ll wear that label with honor if it helps keep a few more of you from showing your team what you’re really like when you let your hair down.

Six Reasons Why You Should Skip the Post-Work Happy Hour:

1. No one really wants you there. Harsh, I know, but the truth hurts. Some dumb a@@ do-gooder suck up employee thought it would be OK to invite you, against the entire team’s better judgment. They want downtime and your presence changes the situation.

2. People get stupid when they drink. You don’t need to see and hear that. The images WILL impact your perception of people and that’s not fair to you or your employees.

3. You’re not one of the gang anymore. Yeah, you were one of the gang a few months ago, but that relationship changed when you took the promotion. There’s no going back.

4. You’ll pay if you cross the wrong line. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a manager cross the line of “one too many” and proceed to cross some line that offended one or more.  Do that just once in front of the troops and your talk of accountability and values will fall on deaf ears forever.

5. Your legacy requires that no one see you drunk. Get drunk in front of the team just once and the primary image the team will retain is one that involves you spilling drinks all over yourself while slurring your words and hitting on one of your employees. Whether you make CEO (unlikely if you frequent too many Happy Hours), or go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, there’s no flossing this view of you out of their minds.

6. You’re always on the clock. In spite of the common sentiment that what you do on your own time is your business, if you’re doing it around direct reports, you’re never off the clock.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Bonding with your team is critical. The best way to do this is by fighting ferociously every day to help them succeed as individuals and as a group.  Create workplace social opportunities…bring in lunch, sponsor some creative field trips and do everything you can to be accessible and approachable. However, when it comes to the spontaneous post-work gatherings at a local watering hole, thank them for the invite and make certain you have something else to do.

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Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.  Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at http://artpetty.com

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at art.petty@artpetty.com

 

Comments

  1. You are absolutely correct. Part of being the boss is that you have to be the boss. As you so clearly say in point one, people are going to complain about you. It comes with the job. I would add one other point, as the boss, you can’t be seen as playing favorites. If you go to happy hour with one group, some other group will feel slighted.

    As always, good stuff!

    Andy

    • Art Petty says:

      Andy, long time no talk! Appreciate the support. I’ve been taking some heat for this one…”extreme” was the kindest term on twitter. I’ve taken flak on this perspective for a long time. I stand behind the ideas in “The Bottom Line.” Thanks for the addition! Cheers, -Art

  2. Kathleen Mixon says:

    I agree that you have to be the boss. It is all or nothing in this situation, and as you so aptly pointed out you can’t go back so you have to move forward. Sometimes the old adage, it is lonely at the top says a lot.

  3. Art,
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I am quite frankly surprised at you taking some heat for this one. Bosses and leaders are called on to be more mature than the people they lead. If you’re getting sloppy drunk and making stupid choices, perhaps you’re not mature enough to be the boss afterall. If you feel the need to go to the happy hour, just go, buy the team a drink, and get out. I agree they are there to “get away” which, yes indeed, includes you, as the boss.

    • Art Petty says:

      Thanks, Jim! I’ve used the “one round and out” approach on more than a few occasions. Love your perspective! Thanks for reading and sharing. -Art

  4. Dave Dobson says:

    This doesn’t just apply to the happy hour after work, but also to conferences and seminars that you and your colleagues may be attending. And let’s not forget about user conferences your company may be hosting. I agree 100% with the comment that leaders are always on the clock and need to have total objectivity when it comes to the team they lead. I’ve seen this in the past where teams have issues when they perceive that the boss is a “buddy” of one or more team members and may not be able to effectively deal with those people if ever there is a need for coaching, or even disciplinary action. Stay clear of it completely is my policy.

    • Art Petty says:

      David, great to hear from one of the wisest people I know! Absolutely right. I’ve been to too many kick-offs or sales meetings where someone ended up in trouble or getting fired for post-meeting bar behavior. Your “stay clear” policy is one that won’t fail. -Art

  5. So funny – I just sent one of those today!! It will be all colleagues, but I did invite the “boss”. He won’t come, and we don’t get drunk anyway.

  6. Wayne Rehberger says:

    I know a guy who didnt take your advice and ended up paying for it with his job. Its seems he was charged with making an off-color comment at a company conference (which he says he didnt) but becasue he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, he was deemed guilty. Perception equals reality … at least in this case. Too bad, becasue he was a great guy and a great leader.

    • Art Petty says:

      Wayne, that’s a painful price for someone to pay. I’ve witnessed this a well…thus my strong view on the topic. Thanks for reading and sharing. -Art

  7. Bob Combs says:

    Art,

    Perhaps the best rule is to not drink to excess…ever. But I know that’s asking a lot of some people. The comments about one round and out are well taken.

    • Art Petty says:

      Thanks, Bob! Agreed. Again, no moralizing here…I’ve just watched too many good people suspend good judgement in these settings…only to have it bite them. One and gone is the motto. Appreciate your reading and commenting. -Art

  8. Mark Roden says:

    I’ve been trying to sell this to my team for a long time, with mixed results.

    As a company that prides ourselves on “promoting from within”, we sometimes struggle with the “why can’t I go out with these guys anymore” attitude.

    Thanks for adding an impartial voice that I can share – hopefully coming from a neutral third party, this will resonate with them.

  9. Kathy Rogers says:

    Art,
    You speak the truth about this topic. I once had a fellow HR director get promoted to VP and insisted we attend a “pool jello shot & margarita party” at another director’s house who enjoyed their style of power and drinking. Thankfully, the highway overpass & the parkway were closed due to a tractor trailer being stuck on the parkway. I could not make it to the party… of course, the VP was not pleased and I soon departed from this position which I had been so passionate about simply because I did not desire to work for someone I did not respect. Thanks again!

  10. I think we need to clear the line here, there’s a difference between having a drink or two with the team and getting smashed.

    With the newer / younger business generation, the leaders tend to be more transparent…they are leading from within the team, not necessarily above the team as in a traditional top down organization. They are out with their employees, enjoying a beer, being “one of them”. I think it’s a refreshing leadership style, however, it’s not for everyone. I’m pretty sure “The Zuck” has had a beer or two with his team. :)

    I think it boils down to if you don’t like it or it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.

    - Jimmy

    • Art Petty says:

      Thanks, Jimmy! There’s some common-sense in your perspective. Appreciate you reading and commenting! -Art

  11. This is pretty bad, and I guess panders to a risk adverse crowd. Half of these tips boil down to ‘Don’t get Drunk’ which applies to much of life in general in terms of succeeding. However, passing on the invite entirely is completely overdoing it and unnecessary. I’m surprised with a bunch of “smart folks” here no one suggests Club Soda or being an adult and stay within moderation. If you think Happy Hour is “let’s get fall down drunk” then you’re not an authority to advise on such events. Perhaps a nice boogie monster story would have sufficed. I read these tips and if I was an employee thinking my boss is deathly afraid to join our team at a bar on every occasion, I then wonder how many DUIs has this person had or what scared him/her from spending down time with the team. Should a management or team lead attend EVERY happy hour, of course not. This “article” only suggests avoidance which means the other managers that can attend a happy hour or two will be able to use that time to build camaraderie, obtain information and not look like a jerk.

    • Art Petty says:

      Tony, always welcome dissenting opinions…even with qualitative assessments of “this is pretty bad.” I’ll disagree. The experienced based perspectives of managing a few thousand people over two decades and watching people with your perspective end up getting fired, getting caught up in EEO suits… and so forth has taught that discretion is the better part of valor. And if the only way the boss can build camaraderie is to do this, then the boss is an idiot. I’ll stand by “The Bottom Line” in the post. -Art

  12. It is interesting to see this article on the importance of appropriate behavior on the part of the boss.

    I work in a group of 8 individuals (including the boss) where the boss (male) has, for most of the past year, often invited either his Associate Director or Executive Assistant (both females) for drinks off-campus at 4PM or for lunch, to my knowledge, never inviting any other members of the staff. The two “favored individuals” often meet with him in his office for an hour or more…and in fact one Friday both were there at 3:30 with all 3 having beers together (no one else invited). Perhaps as a defense, two weeks later, all in the group were invited by email to share “HH” (Happy Hour) in the bosses office, but arrived to find the door closed.

    Many individuals have said this type of “special treatment” for a favored few is entirely inappropriate in an office environment, particularly where the boss may not even say “good morning” or “hi” to other members of the group for a week or more (office door most always closed). Yet – the practice continues, and the (large) organization (a non-profit) has no rules against such behavior. Despite the apparent legality of this behavior, it can be quite demoralizing and demotivating to other members of the staff. It almost sends a message that they are not wanted, that their presence is not desired. This is particularly true in an environment where the boss provides no goals or objectives, and little to no mentoring.

    It would be nice if there were a clearer understanding of management ethics more widely practiced by managment staff. (I write this from the perspective of having managed a group of 8-10 staff for 15 years – and I never would have repeatedly taken out one individual – but intentionally would have invited the group, or made sure I eventually went to lunch with every member of the group).

    • Art Petty says:

      Richard, thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you’ve got it right. Some form of the situation you describe happens all too often in many organizations. Certainly the boss hasn’t found a formula for success…and is walking a fine line on personal professional disaster. Keep your approach…you’ve got it right. -Art

  13. Art –
    Great post, and I love the comments.
    I also agree with the “one round and out” guideline – I buy the round….then politely excuse myself after one drink.
    Here’s a related issue I’m currently dealing with: in China and other eastern countries, the “happy hour” – and getting smashed – is an important part of doing business. But I’m not a big drinker. Yikes, what to do?

    • Art Petty says:

      Dan, perhaps our readers have some China experiences to help you out. Yes, the one and done is a good approach…a bit more moderate than the “extreme” view I offered. Always honored to have you add to the conversation! -Art

  14. Art, I know it’s impossible to write about a situation like this without making blanket statements, but perhaps there was room for a tiny disclaimer at the end.

    I can make arguments for and against the idea that a manager should skip these kind of events based on personal experience.

    These are both at the same job in the same role.
    1) A much more formal manager, never came out for happy hour, and it was a good thing. When she would come out for going away dinners or holiday lunches, whether she would drink or not, she always ended up making some racist remark that made everyone’s jaw drop. For some reason she felt comfortable doing this when we were outside the office and it severely hurt her reputation each time. She eventually left.

    2) The new hire, took it as an opportunity to open up, spur creativity and fix the toxic culture of fear that had built up. The new hire can’t solely take credit for her success at the happy hour, but it certainly helped.

    Also, let’s all keep in mind that keeping it to one drink, manager or not, allows everyone to walk in the next day with dignity.

    Great post Art!

    • Art Petty says:

      Eric, we stimulated some fascinating discussion. Thanks for sharing your examples and wisdom! And yes, the one and done approach seems to be carrying the day. -Art

  15. Not so sure I agree completely with this philosophy. It all depends on the comraderie and team spirit of your organization. I was in the military for years and we always wanted the skipper to come along, we were tight and we enjoyed his company. The same holds true for the organization I work with today. That said, it is very dependent on the team. I will always attend post work events if invited, sometimes I stay a little, sometimes a lot, but I am always conscious of my behavior and how much I consume. I agree that you can never let things get out of control. I think it is different too with my direct team versus a broader group. Bottom line is use the thing that probably makes you a good leader, your judgement.

    • Art Petty says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts/experiences, Eric. I’m glad to see it’s prompted some good thoughts from smart people. -Art

  16. Art, you can never go wrong with a Shirley Temple! Fun post–loved all the comments too..

    • Art Petty says:

      Trish, truer words were never spoken, and from my favorite practitioner and consumer of the famous Shirley Temple! -Art

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