The office environment can be a lot like high school, except everyone's old enough to drink and vote. There are cliques, just like high school. There are popular people and the not so popular, like high school. There is gossip and drama and hurt and friendship.
And, just like high school, there is peer pressure. Sometimes it's good, like when you spur each other on to reach your highest potential. Sometimes it's bad, like when you're sexually harassed. Sometimes, it's just there, like at happy hour. It's those gray areas that aren't right or wrong that can often cause the most headache.
How can happy hour be at all stressful? It has been for me, since I don't drink alcohol. I have nothing against it, but alcohol and Angeline just don't mix. If I'm not breaking out in itchy red hives all over, I'm having hot flashes and chills, and that's only half a drink in. I've heard of some people conditioning themselves to handle it, but I've tried and it's just not worth it anymore. Plus, I've never been cool, so I have no real rep to keep up. Your reasons may be different from mine, but we don't have to let our teetotaling get in the way of networking.
Happy hour can be an extremely valuable part of the professional experience, whether you're at a networking event or celebrating Friday with your coworkers. You don't have to go to every one, but make sure to participate somewhat regularly to stay in the loop.
Don't make it a big deal
Just don't order an alcoholic drink. If someone asks you why, you can tell them the reason or make an excuse. Say it once—you don't need a long explanation. (My go-to: "Oh, I don't drink." ::smile::)
Indulge a little
My happy hour drink of choice is Coke or Diet Coke, and because I don't drink soda often, I'm still sharing in the slightly indulgent feel. Or I'll dig into the cheap happy hour eats (truffle fries, anyone?).
Don't be empty handed
Whether it's a sparkling water, a soda, or a virgin cocktail, if you have something in your hand, people will soon forget it's not alcohol. Ask for a garnish on your drink if you want it to feel extra special.
Laugh it off
If your coworkers are the teasing type, this may just be the thing they need to poke fun at you every once in a while. Play along, in moderation. If they bring the teasing into the workplace, you can throw it right back with a positive spin. I may not participate in the Friday drinking games, but I can rock a last-minute deadline or all-nighter as good as (OK, better than) the rest of them, so if they call me a goody-two-shoes, I'll correct them: I'm a goody-two-shoes-who-is-awesome-at-my-job.
What kind of peer pressure do you get in your office or at work events? How do you address it?