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!