There are certain personal conversations that inevitably (and sometimes awkwardly) make their way into the workplace. For example, you might have to tell your boss that you’re vegan when they schedule a business lunch at your local steakhouse. Or, maybe you need to mention that you’re color blind and have trouble parsing charts that are red and green (true story, my brother had to do this).
Or you might have to reveal during your company happy hour that you don’t drink. This can be an especially tricky situation, as alcohol is a pretty common part of socializing with co-workers, mingling at networking events, or meeting with potential clients. There are plenty of reasons why you may choose not to drink—religious reasons, personal reasons, health reasons, or a history of addiction, or maybe you just don’t like the taste. Whatever the rationale, here’s how to navigate it at work:
Ian Foster, an entrepreneur based in Alaska, hasn’t drunk since he was a teenager. When he travels for work, specifically when attending booking conferences for music tours with his business partner, he’s constantly turning down offers for drinks. “These are people I want to impress and I want to like me. They’re people that it’s important to socialize [with], because they’re not just looking at the power of my craft, they’re looking at the way I get along with other people,” he says. And his first concern when he mentions he doesn’t drink is that people will think he’s not fun.
Kate Campion, the blogger, and founder of My Sweet Home Life felt similarly after she stopped drinking: “It was actually harder for me when I first stopped drinking and really had no option at the beginning than just to say ‘no’ to all things until I was comfortable handling situations involving alcohol.”
Having to bring up something as personal as choosing not to drink in front of your colleagues can be incredibly daunting. There’s a fear, as Foster described to me, that you bring less to the table. Or, that people will hold your past against you or coerce you to participate, as was the case with Campion.
However, many of the people I spoke with emphasized that while peer pressure isn’t uncommon, it’s usually a lot less present than you’d think.
“I think a lot of people go into these situations thinking you have to drink in order to become part of the ‘in’ crowd,” says Foster. “That’s such a lie—because I’ve had so many people who give me a hard time at the moment...but they’ve all come back and said, ‘I respect that.’”