You've made it through the workday, and now you're ready to unwind with friends at happy hour. Inc.com reports that despite the temptation to discuss an overdue report or an upcoming client deadline, happy hours are intended for unwinding and socializing.
Nearly 89% of Millennial employees believe workplace happiness is a key motivation for staying on a job, with 66% stating that exclusive benefits, such as food and beer, are what capture their interest.
But what if a coworker or client makes inappropriate comments or gestures? What should you do if someone gets drunk and says something offensive? How can you professionally navigate uncomfortable situations so that everyone feels safe at work events? We've got answers to your most pressing questions:
Define Inappropriate Behavior
Inappropriate behavior is any behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable. It can be physical or verbal. It can be sexual, racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory.
According to Forbes, a survey by an employee engagement platform reveals an increase in negative workplace encounters. Roughly 70% of participants reported experiencing some form of discriminatory or abusive behavior at work. Even more disheartening is that this percentage surges to 86% among the younger workers.
Inappropriate behavior may be directed at you or someone else in the room. It doesn't matter who does it. If it makes you uncomfortable and disrupts your ability to do your job effectively (or simply enjoy yourself), then it's not okay.
Set Expectations Beforehand
The first step to handling uncomfortable situations is to set expectations before you plan an office happy hour. While there are catering services like Cater Cow that will help you with the food and the drinks to order, you need to make sure everyone knows what type of behavior is expected.
You can do this by creating a company policy or sending out a group email that clearly explains the rules for how people should behave at happy hour events.
If your company doesn't have such policies in place yet, consider taking charge yourself and sending out an email before your next happy hour outing. In this message:
- Communicate the expectations for behavior at the happy hour event before it begins (e.g., no talking about work).
- Explain why these rules are necessary (e.g., so everyone can relax).
- Tell them specifically what kind of interactions would be okay and which ones won't fly. E.g., "I'm not interested in discussing our latest sales figures over drinks."
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
The most important thing to remember is that Happy Hour is a social event. You are there to enjoy yourself and have fun with your friends, so it's important to be aware of your surroundings and the people around you at all times.
If someone is engaging in inappropriate behavior, don't hesitate to address it. If possible, try not to be alone with someone who makes you uncomfortable, although this isn't always possible.
Respond Calmly and Professionally
To respond calmly and professionally:
- Stay calm. If you feel yourself getting flustered, take a deep breath and count to ten before responding.
- Be polite but firm. In most cases, your best bet is simply to politely tell the person that their behavior is making you uncomfortable, at which point they should apologize and change the subject (or leave).
- Use body language to show them that you are not intimidated by them or their words. This can include eye contact, standing up straight with shoulders back (like Wonder Woman), and crossing arms over chest if necessary. Even laughing at inappropriate jokes, if possible. You want your body language to say, "I'm confident in myself.”
As the saying goes, "Don't make it personal." If someone is being inappropriate at an office happy hour event and you don't want to engage with them, the best thing to do is simply ignore it. The last thing you want to do is make the situation more uncomfortable by getting into an argument or confrontation with them. It will only escalate the issue further and make things worse for everyone involved.
Don't get defensive. Instead of reacting defensively, take a step back from what's happening and find a way through which allows you both room for growth without damaging your professional relationship or making yourself look bad in front of colleagues (or worse).
The International Labour Organization states that almost 23% of employees, or 1 in 5 people, have faced some form of workplace harassment. Measuring the extent of workplace violence and harassment is challenging, as only half of the global victims share their experiences with someone else. Additionally, victims often disclose their experiences after enduring multiple forms of violence and harassment.
If you experience an uncomfortable situation, it's important to report it immediately. It can be difficult to know where to begin when reporting a hostile work environment or harassment. Here are some steps you can take:
- Report incidents directly to management or HR. Make sure you have written evidence of the incident, including dates and times of any communication with managers or HR representatives about the issue(s). Keep copies of all written communications in case they need to be referenced later on in your case file.
- Document all instances of inappropriate behavior toward yourself or others by coworkers or supervisors. Especially if there was no supervisor present at the time. For example, if someone made inappropriate comments while walking down an empty hallway.
It's important to maintain confidentiality.
Do not share details of the incident with others. Do not gossip about it, tell others about the person involved, or even mention that you were in this situation at all. You don't want to give anyone else any ideas about how they can get away with inappropriate behavior themselves.
If you are part of an organization or company where multiple employees may be experiencing harassment or other similar issues, then it might be appropriate for you to share those experiences privately with someone outside of your workplace, but only after consulting HR for guidance first.
The best way to handle uncomfortable situations is with support. If you feel like you need a different perspective, talk to a trusted colleague or find an HR representative.
You can also find someone who will listen, such as a friend or family member. If all else fails and you're still feeling stressed out by the situation at hand, seek professional help from a counselor or therapist. They'll be able to give you advice on how best to handle these kinds of situations in the future so that they don't affect your mental health as much anymore.
Happy hour is a great way to unwind after a long day at work, catch up with friends and colleagues, and network with other professionals in your field. But it's also important to be aware of your surroundings and know how to handle situations that may make you uncomfortable.
We hope this article has given you some ideas on how best to navigate uncomfortable situations at happy hour while still maintaining professionalism.