When your coworkers drink – but you don’t

When your coworkers drink – but you don’t

We all know the holiday office party cliché about that one coworker getting so snockered it costs them their next raise or promotion. If you can’t ever see yourself as that one coworker, if you rarely drink alcohol and don’t care to at all among your colleagues and especially if they are heavy drinkers at office parties, you may feel like you’re in foreign territory. You may feel like both an outsider wanting to fit in and someone who feels fully justified in your personal decision.

Here are some strategies that may help you to cope:

  1. Politely decline

    If there’s a birthday or holiday celebration in the office and alcohol is being offered, you can always politely decline, perhaps with a cup of coffee or tea in hand, and stay at the festivities. Or, you may choose to stay away from the gathering altogether and offer well wishes or congratulations later.

    The main idea is to act in a way that will allow your coworkers to respect you and your decision not to drink.

  2. Order a mocktail

    If you’re at an off-site party or out after hours with work friends and want to appear to be drinking, you might consider discreetly ordering a glass of soda water with a lime or lemon.  (It can be mistaken for a mixed drink and none would be the wiser.)  Or order a cola with lime. (Rum and coke, anyone?) Mocktails are a good option, too. Just having a drink in your hand can ease the social tension, if you feel any, and allow you to fit in better when drinking is the main activity.

  3. No need to explain

    If your coworkers notice you never drink, they may wonder why — some may even ask. To drink or not to drink is a highly personal decision and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. However, in an office setting, to appear personable and as one of the team, you may want to give one – you don’t want to drink and drive, you can’t drink because of a medical condition or you may be making a choice based on religion. If you are a recovering alcoholic, you may have been advised to stay away from certain social situations to maintain sobriety.

    Again, what you reveal and how much you reveal is your own personal decision. For instance, you may be pregnant and not want to reveal that yet, in which case a simple, “No, thank you” is perfectly acceptable. In all cases, go with your comfort level in how much information you reveal; no one should make you feel pressured into giving an explanation. If you do feel pressured or awkward, seek out advice from your human resources professional or go to your supervisor with your concerns.

  4. Is your promotion at risk?

    As in any social situation, if you don’t go along with the crowd, you risk appearing aloof and unfriendly. In some offices, this can be akin to committing career suicide; in others, it may not matter. First, gauge the office culture, preferably before the office party or other times when coworkers are not drinking. Is drinking or going to bars often a topic of conversation or are there other topics you can use to connect with people?

    Doing something that goes against your principles or doctor’s orders is never advisable, yet you may want to compensate in other ways if you feel your effectiveness or promotion path is being compromised. Can you volunteer for committees, go above and beyond in your assigned duties, join an after-hours sporting event or activity? If you really fear this one issue is holding you back, talk to your supervisor about it.

  5. Is it just you?

    If you step back to look at the big picture, you may discover that your coworkers really don’t care all that much (or at least, as much as you do) about your not partaking of the bubbly. Simply realizing that lifestyles and values differ, and yours is as valid as anyone else’s, may help you to relax when the liquor comes out. Finally, you can’t do anything about others’ opinions of you, yet your own confidence in your decisions will go a long way toward diffusing any discomfort you may feel — as will knowing you’ll never become the office cliché.