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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Walk of Shame: How to Handle the Morning After Happy Hour

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It starts out innocently enough—just a beer at happy hour after work with your boss. But the next thing you know, it’s way past your bedtime and you’re still pounding drinks, telling her who-knows-what deep, dark secrets that were definitely better left nice and dark.

And it’s Tuesday.

So, here you are, Wednesday morning, having to face not only the way-too-bright fluorescent lights of your office, but your now-too-all-knowing manager. What now?

While the post-confessional morning is never fun, how you handle the work walk of shame is incredibly important—for making you both feel a little less awkward and for putting your relationship back on a professional note. So, if last night went a little too far, here are a few smart tips for navigating the morning after.

Get Back to Work

Regardless of what you may have revealed the night before—anything from your current job-hunting endeavors to your one-night stand with Bob from accounting—what your boss really wants to know is that you can still get the job done. So, as much as you want to call in sick for the next week (year), head to the office bright and early and get yourself to work.

Back in my managing days, I used to take my staff out for occasional one-on-one happy hours. One night, one of my employees went into a few too many details about his personal life. I knew the next day would be awkward for me, but probably even more so for him.

The funny part was, I completely understood how stuff like that gets said over a few beers, and I didn’t think any differently of him for it—until he didn’t show up for work the next day. And the day after that, he was pretty much useless. What had started out as just an embarrassing story we both would’ve forgotten in a few days turned into a performance issue, forcing me to confront him about his work habits (which he interpreted as my reaction to our happy hour discussion).

There’s no doubt, getting back to work the morning after won’t be easy for you or your boss. But, if you become so paralyzed with humiliation that you can’t do your job, those embarrassing few hours could escalate into serious trouble for your career. Bury yourself in work if you have to—just make sure your boss sees that your after-work indiscretions have nothing to do with your performance.

Fess Up

Of course, then there are the happy hour discussions that you can’t just push under the rug while busying yourself with expense reports.

Several years ago, for example, I made the unfortunate mistake of going to happy hour with my boss while I was pretty heavily pursuing another opportunity. Somehow (er, after a few margaritas), I’d admitted I was on the hunt for a new job, and all those doctors appointments and sick days were revealed for what they were—interviews. While my boss commiserated with me at the time, I knew deep down he’d have issues with my secret plans the next day at work.

I cannot express the amount of awkwardness that filled the room when I walked into his office the next day, and I seriously considered running and hiding. But, I knew this was a wound that couldn’t fester, and I had to clear the air.

And you know what? What started as a drunken confession led to a constructive discussion about why I was really looking for a job, and how things could be improved in my current role. I ended up not leaving for a few more years, and my relationship with my boss was stronger, partially as a result of our frank discussion.

Without a doubt, it’s going to suck when you have to address what was said or done the night before. But the sooner you do, the easier it will be to move past it. If you spilled a drink in your boss’ lap, apologize. If you’ve shared too many details about your love life, acknowledge you may have overstepped a boundary. The point is, be brief, but be sincere. Your boss is every bit as human as you are, and will appreciate you owning up to your faux pas.

Move On

Last but not least, just let it go already. Last night’s scandalous confession won’t be scandalous forever if you let it die quickly. Unless you said or did something really inappropriate, chances are your boss will forget about it in a few days once the dust settles and the hangovers are over.

A few years ago, I was at a large company holiday party, which was attended by people from our offices worldwide. We all had a good time, but a few got a little carried away with their dance moves—I’ll let your imagination tell the rest. We all had to show up for meetings the rest of the week, and each of them received a good roasting for several days after.

Now, it would’ve only lasted a day, but a few of the dancers just couldn’t stop apologizing for it. Every time one of them mentioned it, a barrage of jabs would be launched and uncontrollable snickering would ensue. Their inability to just let it go and move on not only extended their suffering, but disrupted the productivity of the entire group as well.

It may not be easy living down a less-than-proud moment the morning after, but I assure you, continually reminding everyone of the event or obsessively apologizing will not help ease the pain. Suck it up for a bit, then make it clear you’ve moved on and are ready to get back to business. Chances are, everyone will follow your lead.

We’re all human, which means we’ll all make a few magnificent mistakes in our lifetimes. And it’s almost a guarantee you’ll eventually say something you regret to your boss. But, with the right attitude and a little triage after the fact, everyone can move on.