Don’t Let the Happy Hour Turn into Sour Hour!

The Office Happy Hour is one of the best ways to let off some steam! After a long tiring day at work where the conversations that take place are strictly business-like, a ‘Happy Hour’ is something that’s welcomed with open arms. In fact, it is healthy to close the office a little early and organize for a ‘happy hour’ in order to lighten the mood of the employees by coming up with activities that help in team building. The happy hours could either be after office or during your work hours, but it is essential to conduct them for the wellbeing of the employees and the goodwill of the company.

With all that goes down during the Happy Hour, know well that it does not stay there. Oh no, not at all! As ‘fun’ and ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ as it sounds, the Happy Hour is something that is an extension of your work hour and so you must make a mental note of how you conduct yourself. Apart from that, as an organization who conducts ‘happy hours’, it is more important to see to it that Happy Hour remains happy and not turn into something serious or scandalous.

Coming to the point that what happens at the ‘Happy Hour’ does not stay at the Happy Hour, it is true. No matter where you are, you will always be judged. Sadly, it’s the truth. Now you may be open or a little of yourself after work but bear in mind that nothing goes unnoticed and nothing should. That doesn’t mean you find ways to go around it. And you really shouldn’t because that will give your boss and colleagues, a different way to perceive you. With all the employee-friendly policies that your company may boast of, how you act, even during the ‘happy hours’ may reflect on your professional life.

Being in the legal department, we have had a lot of issues go down during the ‘happy hours’. And as an employer, these setbacks can have drastic impacts on the company. I have noticed that a lot of after-office parties or as we call them ‘happy hours’, quite often include drinks. Not that it’s bad but when they are conducted for team-building, it’s good to not include drinks. Anyway, even if you incorporate drinks, you have to keep in mind a few things.

Happy Hours are mandatory for, not only the goodwill of the company but also for keeping employees excited and motivated. Now what follows is necessary for employers as well as employees to keep in mind.

Avoid Drinks

For employers: As an employer who is organizing the happy hours, see to it that you avoid alcohol. It’s not bad, but most of the times, it is an excessive intake of alcohol that results in unpleasant situations. Hence, in order to avoid liabilities of any sort, organize for beverages that don’t contain alcohol and some snacks. Alcohol consumption capacity is not the same for all. Employees who cannot handle themselves can cause situations that could have been avoided otherwise. Fist fights, exchange of unpleasant words or even physical harassment can be led to through alcohol consumption.

happy hours at work office

For employees: As an employee, it is your duty to not get carried away by what you are offered. Having drinks with your friends and family is completely different than having drinks with your colleagues. Your attitude and conduct still need to be professional enough. Also, have drinks but avoid getting drunk. You may feel that it is informal, but don’t forget that you are constantly under the scanner. How you handle your drinks is also something that your employer will make note of in the manner of assessing you. They watch how you conduct yourself even when you are consuming alcohol, and in this way, they get to know where you deserve to be placed in the future. Oh yes, your future in the company has quite something to do with how you are after office hours.

Talk with a filter

For employers: As an employer, it’s important to know that employees may still hold you liable without any alcohol being involved whatsoever. Always keep tabs of the conversations taking place in between your employees. I don’t mean to say that you need to dictate what the topic of conversation should be, but you must see that no one is getting uncomfortable at the table. Apart from the topic of discussion, also notice the tone and language used by your employees. It gives you an insight into how your employees conduct themselves outside the work environment.

For employees: As employees, your language, and not only that but also your body language is constantly scrutinized. Big organizations are on the lookout for people with not only good work ethics but also with good conduct. When you use abusive language or become overly comfortable with people of the opposite sex, your employer will start judging you in a particular way. Your happy hour attitude is one thing that you really need to keep a check on. How you conduct yourself outside, helps employers to know your true colors. It’s good to be modest and polite, showing that you are always aware of what’s going down. If you see your employee trying to boast a lot and create a scene, try being the one to control the other employee. Such actions make you stand out. I am not saying you shouldn’t have fun and crack jokes, etc, but know what you are talking and who is listening. Now you may ask how being overfriendly can go against you? Your intentions may be very pure, but a lot many times, people mistake that for someone being inquisitive and ‘sticky’. Have a neutral approach towards all your colleagues. Sometimes being overfriendly can also result in people thinking that you may be involved in an office romance. In order to keep all such speculations at bay, it is important to draw a line, even during the ‘happy hours’, as to how you approach your co-workers. Plus gossiping at ‘happy hours’  is a big no-no because you never know who is on your side and who isn’t. Believe me, if your employers know about this, they will never trust you with big projects that need to be kept secret. So, avoid getting into or spreading gossips of any kind. Your progress could be at jeopardy.


For employers: Happy hours at work can be quite a disturbing hour if an employee’s intentions of enjoyment are a little different. As an employer, it’s your duty to see that no employees are made to feel uncomfortable at any point due to another co-worker. Harassment cases are serious and not all employees will be open about them being harassed. Avoid bars, instead, go for a well-lighted café or restaurants where everyone shares a table. Bars usually have a different environment which isn’t really healthy and ‘happy hour’-friendly. I won’t stop you from going to bars but if you do go there keep an eye on your employees’ consumption.

happy hours at work office

For employees: Happy hours are the time to unwind and get friendly with your colleagues. But, you also need to be a little alert as to how you are treated. If you realize that you are being made to feel uneasy, the first thing you ought to do is report to your immediate senior. Always keep in mind that when this happens for the first time, make it a point to nip it in the bud. Try not encouraging it. Stand your ground and let your co-workers know that you are not someone to be taken for a ride.  Happy hours are an extension of your work hours and therefore it doesn’t mean that it needs to be pardoned or even forgiven. Bear in mind that unacceptable behavior cannot and must not be pardoned. Even if your office friend is harassing someone else in the office, be the one to put an end to it. Harassment during ‘happy hours’ can be many things apart from physically violating someone’s privacy. Harassment can also be of a mental form where someone is constantly trying to pull someone down with an intention to harm them. 

Let’s get down to the legal side of the business

No employer must say that what happens at the ‘happy hour’ is not their concern. You should be concerned. I’ve also seen some organizations take extreme steps like firing someone for saying something against the company while s/he was drunk at an office party. I think that’s crossing the line. A drunk employee usually speaks the truth, but jokes apart, giving a warning works fine rather than firing someone indefinitely. The decision to fire someone must be when there is no way of getting over what happened. You can’t show the red card to someone who played a prank or if someone got too comfortable with their co-worker. I am not saying it should be tolerated. No way. Don’t get me wrong there. What I am saying is that you must try to tackle the situation based on how serious it is and how harmful it can be, to not only the organization but also for all your employees.

What you must also keep in mind is that if an employee is unhappy with another employee’s behavior during ‘happy hours’ don’t dismiss it saying that such things happen. They have the right to approach the court of law and sue you for not paying heed to their issues. Getting dragged to the court for not rectifying the issue at hand is the last thing any organization would want. If you come across an employee who has had an issue with what went down at the happy hours, then hear them out. Make them realize that what they say will not go unheard. Sit down with the company policies and see how you can tackle the matter. Then discuss it with the hapless employee and tell them how you will be taking care of the matter at hand. If they still find issues with it, take it to the board and discuss the issue. But don’t take steps without informing both parties or else there are chances that you could be sued by both. Yes. The guilty party may also press charges for taking extreme measures without proper consideration. Only once you have established well and gathered the facts for not keeping an employee, then go ahead and fire them. It’s necessary to know what goes behind ‘happy hours’ and be aware of it.

I am not saying that such things go down all the time.  It’s good to loosen up with your employees and get to know them at a personal level as it also helps you understand the team you are working with. All I am saying is that an alert eye is also important at such times.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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