It’s Not You, It’s Me: Why I Probably Wont Go To Your Happy Hour

We have an unofficial tradition at work (at the DC office) of going for an office-wide happy hour on a new hire’s first day. There is also usually a happy hour when someone from another office is visiting, the monthly Government Tech happy hour, and occasional impromptu happy hours. Depending on conditions, that can be as few as two or as many as six happy hours in a month. I like my colleagues well enough and would even like to get to know some of them outside of work, but the happy hour strikes me as a poor place to do it.

For starters, a workplace with a social calendar filled in with events surrounding alcohol doesn’t exactly foster healthy social relationships. People say things they don’t mean when they are drinking, behave differently, and, most problematically, think that workplace conflict can be resolved over a few drinks. The first two are obvious, but the final one only caught my attention recently.

Booze is expensive, I get that. It’s nice not to have to buy one every once in a while, but it’s merely a nice gesture when there’s unresolved resentment between the two people. Without the extra step of apology and reconciliation, there’s no new shared understanding, empathy, or peace. Moreover it puts the
person wronged in an inferior position because to others (and maybe to the person who should apologize) it looks like they’ve worked things out. Good apologies are sincere, and come from a place of humility. Buying someone a beer drowns the problem in a pool of ethanol.

Beyond the potential damage to relationships happy hours can deal,
events that center around alcohol are alienating for a variety of people: introverts, families, anybody for whom “just take an Uber” is an unsatisfactory option for getting home. But also for people who have lives outside of work. For many, spending 8 hours at the office followed by one or two more in a poorly-lit bar is stressful, off-putting, and exclusionary.

Our San Francisco offices do a potluck lunch every week. It happens during the work day and people can choose how to route around it if it gets in the way of their productivity. I’m sure this is not without problems. We do a monthly game night in the DC office. I’m hoping we can do more things like that to be welcoming of people who don’t drink, or can’t or don’t want to attend happy hours.