“I got so drunk in front of all my team at a work do – how do I get over it?”

Written by The Honest Boss

Stylist’s new columnist gives her straight-talking careers advice on everything from toxic colleagues to hybrid working.

“Recently, my first ‘work drinks’ ended in disaster. I was so nervous that I got drunk quickly and ended up vomiting over my boss’s shoes in front of my new team (who were fairly sober). I was so mortified I didn’t even apologise  I just made a sharp exit. I’m supposed to be a senior team leader. How will I ever get over this?” 

That skin-crawling cringing you’re currently experiencing? It’ll pass. Because in spite of your crushing embarrassment, I can promise that you will survive the shame and hopefully one day look back at the incident and laugh – maybe even with your boss.

We’re all guilty of catastrophising an embarrassing episode now and again – especially when there’s hangxiety involved. But usually, it’s nowhere near as bad as you think. After all, no one died and the only real damage done was to your pride (and maybe your boss’s shoes). So while you may be haunted by the memories of that night, don’t lose perspective. We’ve all been there, even if we don’t like to admit it.

I remember once leading a two-day off-site conference, where the emphasis was on team bonding. One of the most senior leaders  I had only just hired – let’s call her Anna – was meeting most of her colleagues for the first time. These “away” day events are famous for getting a bit loose; blurring the boundaries between work and play. Towards the end of our first evening of drinks and dinner, I heard shrieking from a far corner of the room and saw my financial controller on the floor on all fours with Anna sitting atop, bucking bronco style, yelling, “Yee ha, giddy up!”

I confess I was stunned: this was not how I’d hoped the team would see Anna. She had morphed from the exceptionally professional, almost uptight person she’d been earlier in the day into an over-excited rodeo rider. I was quite mortified for her and felt guilty for not keeping a more watchful eye out – had I enabled this by encouraging such a late night at the hotel bar? But I also wondered if I’d made the right decision in appointing her because, as well as leading her department, her job included client entertainment. I could only hope the rodeo performance was not indicative of how client evenings might pan out in future.

The next morning dawned and Anna was due to present her vision for her department to the team. I feared she wouldn’t even show her face. How wrong I was – she rocked up, looking a bit green around the gills and proceeded to give one of the best presentations of the day. Everyone applauded and the previous evening’s antics were never mentioned again – by her, me or anyone else.

Anna turned out to be fantastic in her role and I later realised that it was simply nerves getting the better of her that had caused her rodeo display. But who would blame her for having one too many cocktails – we were a tight-knit team that she was meeting for the first time. But her subsequent professionalism and dignity ensured we all had utter respect for how she’d handled herself – she literally went from zero to hero.

I’m telling you this story to show that you’ve now got two choices: you can hang your head in shame, avoid eye contact with your team and never really get over the episode. Or you can front it out, showing up to work determined to demonstrate your best professional self.

It would help, however, to send a private message apologising to your boss sooner rather than later. Keep it short and cite your nervousness as the reason for drinking too quickly – your boss will probably also be keen to move on. But you should also prepare for your boss raising the subject face-to-face. If this happens, hold your own and repeat your apologies sincerely but briefly, making it clear that you’re keen to get on with the job in hand. It’s important to show that you do not intend for your shame to overshadow your performance.

Facing your fears is the best course of action. No one should judge you if you walk tall and quickly embrace your new role with gusto. Of course, your colleagues might have sniggered about it behind your back (let’s face it, who wouldn’t?) and your boss may harbour some reservations about you. But you can’t fret about what you can’t control, so it’s best not to waste your energy on either of these scenarios. If your team alludes to the episode, laugh it off and change the subject. If you focus on being a success in your job, you’ll earn their respect for your leadership skills.

Remember, we’re all flawed beings, so it’s no surprise that we occasionally act in ways we regret. But it’s how we handle ourselves afterwards that matters. Vulnerability such as you’ve shown is what makes us human – bosses and colleagues alike can’t fault us for that.

The Honest Boss has held senior management positions at some of the world’s most well-respected companies. With over 25 years of experience under her belt directing and mentoring teams of people around the globe, managing multi-million pound budgets and representing brands on the international stage,she’s more than qualified to help sort out your work woes. So, whether you’re feeling overlooked for a promotion, struggling with being back in the office or thrown up in front of your manager, The Honest Boss is here to give you no bullshit career advice.   

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