Beers With The Boss

Stop me if this sounds familiar: you’re at a company happy hour, enjoying your second or third beer and discussing how the Dallas Cowboys will knock themselves out of the playoffs this year. You’re having a great time, laughing and cutting up with your co-workers when your boss joins you. You didn’t see him/her coming, and you’ve just told the punchline of a raunchy joke that you now wish you hadn’t told. Your boss smiles, but doesn’t laugh, sips their drink and then walks away. Yikes! Now you’re worrying for the rest of the evening if you’ll be called into your boss’ office tomorrow morning.

One of the most interesting trends among businesses that actively target millennials is the rise of extended happy hours and company-sponsored recreational outings. In “Go West, Young Man,” we touched briefly on some of the amenities that companies use to attract young talent. With these new perks and events however, comes a unique balancing act: how am I supposed to behave with work people outside of work?

Having a beer with your boss is one example, but the challenges of socializing with upper management can take many forms. How competitive am I supposed to be in this golf tournament? What am I allowed to order at this company dinner? Okay, my boss just told a dirty joke, does that make it okay for me to tell one? As companies look to make their cultures more appealing to a younger generation, new employees are increasingly put into social situations with top company leaders, which can be very intimidating. If your CEO sits down next to you while you’re having a beer, what’s the first thing you are supposed to say? Hi, Bob? Do you want to talk about work or anything except work?

It might seem a bit silly, but for millennials, particularity those entering their first job, these are questions that aren’t covered in orientation and believe me, they’re ones we think about. We’ve thrown a lot of data around recently, so instead I thought it might be interesting to share some of the more awkward company-social scenarios that some of our fellow Base Campers have encountered and how they managed (or didn’t!) to handle them.

Scenario: Beers With The Boss, How Much Should I Drink?

“Our company’s happy hours really do go on for hours. The invitations usually say they’ll be two or three hours, but many of the managers stay until well after midnight. The first time I attended one of these events I didn’t know what to make of them. I enjoy having fun, but the C-Suite frequently comes to these events, and I was terrified of making myself look foolish. What I do now is let the most senior leader present set the tone for the event. I usually try to match my own intake with his or hers.” – Supply Industry

“I honestly am still not sure how to do this well haha! Our company sets up an open bar at these kind of things and at my first one, no managers showed up for the first hour. The other employees and I drank probably more than we should have and when we got up to leave, a group of managers walked in. They’d been holed up in a meeting that ran longer than they’d expected, and we all wound up staying there for two more hours, praying we didn’t say something stupid the whole time.” -Consulting

Scenario: What Can I Order When The Company Is Paying For Dinner?”

The first time at a company dinner I opened the menu and basically just froze. I knew it was a nice restaurant, but I had no idea what was socially acceptable to order. I actually had the waiter skip me just so I could measure what everyone else’s meals cost first. A few people ordered a glass of wine, but I couldn’t bring myself to order one. I actually asked my manager about it the next day, and he laughed and said he did the same thing when he started. Best advice he gave me was don’t worry so much about the cost of food. The company would rather buy you a steak than alcohol. That made a lot of sense to me so I never order alcohol at company dinners.” – Oil and Gas Industry

Scenario: Company Dodgeball….Can I Peg the CEO?

“One of the cooler parts about my job is that we have really active company sports teams, so much so that we sometimes field two teams in the same league. I love playing dodgeball so I signed up immediately for one of our teams and the first game we played, was against our company’s other team, where the CEO just happened to be the captain. I’m a decent athlete and our CEO is not and my first thought before the game started was, ‘Wow… I allowed to peg this guy?’ I wound up hitting him pretty early on, which I think might have embarrassed him, so I just didn’t aim for him the next time we played his team.” – Consulting

Scenario: Running Into Upper Management Outside of Work

“The first time I saw someone from upper management outside of work I felt like a middle school kid running into his teacher at the mall. She was a VP in my division and I think at that point I’d spoken to her maybe once or twice. We were in a store and she was on the other side and hadn’t seen me yet. I debated for about five minutes whether or not I should go over and say hello, and in the end I didn’t want to look rude so I walked over and said hello….She had no idea who I was and when I told her my supervisor’s name, she didn’t know who he was either. It was awful.” – Tech Industry

We’ve all been in situations like these. They’re terrible, made even worse because they happen with people who are responsible for our recognition and advancement within the company. That first beer with the boss always feels uneasy, no matter where you are in your career. It may not seem like it when you’re first starting out, but mastering company socials is an important part of millennials’ corporate development. When your boss asks you to grab a beer after work, you want to be prepared! So far it sounds like you should never beat your boss at sports, always order a steak instead of a cocktail, and if you’re going to be at a happy hour for a long time…pace yourself.

Do you have any particularly awkward encounters with a boss that you’re just dying to share anonymously? Let us know!

What’s In A Name?

Job titles are one of the most subjective labels that we receive in our lifetime. They are bestowed upon us by others at a rate that we largely don’t control, and they allow other people to form opinions of us without ever having met us. “Oh wow! That guy’s signature in his email says he’s a VP, he must be really important.”

But the tricky thing about titles is that they mean different things to different people. A Supervisor at Company A might be the equivalent of a Director at Company B. Yet to an employee at Company B, a Supervisor might be several rungs below the Director level in their organizational structure. Titles build an internal hierarchy, but very often we superimpose our own corporate structures onto another company before we understand how that company operates internally. It’s something that we all innately do. A VP is a VP, right? Company A’s VP and Company B’s VP should have roughly the same amount of experience, responsibilities and compensation.   

But that’s not always the case. Not all titles are created equal, particularly in the Age of Start-Ups where titles can become pretty creative. (I have a friend whose actual job title is “Master of Whispers!” Man, I’m jealous!). This can get complicated, particularly for new-hires, millennials and for those of us in the sales industry. Who should I be trying to grab coffee with? Who is the best prospect? Who the heck do I report to and who do they report to? For some companies the corporate ladder is pretty straightforward, but for others, it can be quite horizontal or entangled, which leads to some interesting perceptions.

From the discrepancies I’ve heard from some of our younger clients and associates about job titles within their companies, I was curious to see if other millennials’ interpretations of titles matched my own. We surveyed a group of millennials age 22 to 30 across the country and asked them to interpret where each position fell on the organizational chart.

The majority of participants seemed to agree with our own vision of a corporate chart, with some noticeable discrepancies between the “Director” and “Head” levels. Simple enough. Once we had established that there was at least a traceable pattern of our groups’ assumptions of “simple” corporate hierarchies, we asked a second, more complicated question. Titles are rarely ever just “Director,” “Manager,” and “Supervisor.” Instead, our second question asked participants to imagine themselves as an employee at an unnamed and non-industry specified company. We provided the full titles of four “managers,” and asked participants which of these leaders ranked highest on this imaginary company’s corporate ladder.


This time around the results were not as clear. The majority of participants in the first round ranked the positions “Chief __ Officer, Director, Head, Manager, Supervisor,” from top to bottom. Yet in the second round the majority (36%) of participants thought the “Supervisor of Global Brand Management was the highest ranked manager.” “Associate Director of Gaming” was second with 29%, and “Head Analyst for Internal Communications” was third with 21%.

Now in fairness, we purposefully added words like “Global” and “Associate” to these titles as added variables, but the results are still interesting in that once the titles became more specialized, our participants interpretations of them shifted. When the supervisor was just a supervisor, nearly all participants rated that leader very low on the corporate ladder. However, when the supervisor became the “Supervisor of Global Brand Management,” people’s interpretation of that leader changed.

Titles matter because we form impressions based on them. These impressions may be uninformed, but they are one of the first things people pay attention to in email signatures and on office doors. This is particularly true when new employees enter the work force, especially if they had little previous corporate experience. I once saw a TV show where a paper delivery company’s boss promoted a delivery boy to “Executive Delivery Boy,” because it was “a meaningless title that made employees feel better about themselves.” It was a pretty tongue-in-cheek joke, but I bring it up to highlight that titles mean different things in different organizations.

So what’s in a name? Everybody knows that the head honcho is in charge, but beyond that the waters get a little murky. When new employees enter the workforce, it’s important for them to understand how a company functions. Companies deliver services and products based on individual and team structures that support the organization. But it’s not always easy to understand how different divisions relate to one another.

In the second round of our survey, participants had varying understandings of who belonged where on the corporate ladder. If one of our participants directly reported to the Supervisor of Global Brand Management, then he/she would probably have a pretty good understanding of how the marketing department of the company operated. Yet that also means that initially, this person would not have an understanding of how the Head Analyst for Internal Communications fits into the company structure or what he/she even does.

Millennials have their own understanding of what they think corporate structure looks like, which may not always be in-line with how companies actually function. “Okay the CTO makes the calls, the VP tells the directors, the directors tell the managers, and the managers tell the analysts.” Increasingly, companies’ services and functions are expanding, which means that diversified knowledge across a company’s divisions is a premium skill. But in order for companies to be to develop their millennials into cross-divisional employees, millennials need to have some understanding of how the chain of command works as it relates to a company’s deliverables.

What do you think about job titles? Got a unique one? Let us know!