You’ve got a family waiting at home, you can’t hold your booze like you used to, and you don’t feel like you have much in common with the 20-and 30-somethings in your office.
And once again, there’s a happy hour invitation on your calendar, waiting for your response.
As you move along in your work life, it’s normal to lose interest in after-work events. Over the years, your own family, hobbies and friends increasingly absorb time and interest—while your junior colleagues start to seem younger and younger.
At a certain point, that age and cultural divide can make for awkward feelings. “You might be concerned about not knowing which drinks are in or not getting their humor,” says Regina Duffey Moravek, a human resources professional with Bravely, an HR and workplace coaching platform. “Or being judged as the old person in the room.”
But always hitting the delete key on the invite can have consequences beyond your immediate reputation, says Judith Rowe, a coaching and career development expert. Chilling and mingling with your office mates in a more relaxed setting builds bonds that can enable better collaboration.
Plus, some of these younger folks might be your boss someday—if they aren’t already. Either way, it’s a chance to make connections that might come in handy, now or later in your career.
So even if you have a young family or lots of outside-work commitments, make it a point to head over to the bar with your younger colleagues sometimes—and send regrets when you can’t.
“Encourage your co-workers to keep inviting you, because one day everything will line up just right and you’ll be able to go,” says Carlos Escobar, an HR and talent development expert in San Antonio, Texas.
When you do say yes, use these tips to mingle more easily.
Give yourself a time limit
There’s plenty of room between being a no-show and shutting the place down.
Making a relatively short appearance at a fete is fine, says Moravek. If you don’t want to look like you’re heading out early, then arrive after the event is already in full swing.
On the other hand, if you feel like a bit of an outsider to the larger group, try to walk over with your closest friends on the way from the office.
Find common ground
It’s easy to dismiss the concerns of your younger peers. But in reality, many of your worries are probably pretty similar.
You’ve got a giant mortgage? They’ve got student loans to pay. Marital woes? Remember, dating’s no picnic either.
And if you don’t feel like sharing, listen up. “We tend to think we have to jump in and contribute immediately, but that isn’t the case,” says Escobar. “It helps to sit back, relax, and enjoy the conversation for a bit before picking our moment.”
Keep at your own pace
Chances are, you can’t down four shots and still turn up looking fresh at 8:30 am. So take it easy. Have one drink, then switch to seltzer with lime.
Or don’t drink at all. No one will notice if your glass holds soda or a wine spritzer. Your colleagues are far too focused on themselves.
Of course you’ve had different life experiences from your younger office mates. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” Escobar says.
It’s fine to admit you don’t get current cultural references (Bebe Rexha, who?). And you don’t have to hide your family life.
“Tell stories about your child and spouse,” says Escobar. “If you use slang that no one understands anymore, own it. Interactions like this are part of what make us human, and sharing that human experience is something everyone is hardwired to enjoy.”
That said, it doesn’t hurt to arm yourself with ideas for crowd-pleasing conversations. Cooking, sports, exercise, travel: just about everyone on earth has a story to share.
Then when your co-workers spin off into a long story about Bebe Rexha or Black Mirror, nod knowingly, and move on.