It's closing in on 5 p.m. on a Thursday, and your coworkers announce they're all headed to the local bar for happy hour.
The idea sure sounds good. After long days in the office, buckling down to get projects completed and deadlines met, it can be nice to let loose and have a little fun. Social events at work (like a holiday party) can be a great way to get to know your colleagues better, and even form lasting bonds that extend outside of the office.
However, there is always the danger of letting go a bit too much.
The key, of course, is to avoid becoming the colleague who becomes infamous for being belligerent at the work social event. Make sure your name — and professional reputation — are known for more than just that. It's fair to say that you’ve never even considered this a possibility, as you would NEVER lose control at a work function or in front of your colleagues.
But the next day, you wake with a pounding headache and foggy memories of tequila shots. You're still half-dressed from the night before, makeup smeared. You don't remember everything, but you do know that you crossed the line (and may have even offended your co-workers during the course of the night).
When you've already crossed the line, what can you do to recover and repair your professional reputation? Here are some steps to take immediately following your faux pas:
1. Ask a trusted work friend for their opinion.
Seek out the advice of a trusted friend. Your memories are hazy, and you're already embarrassed — ask for their guidance to avoid blowing the situation out of proportion. Perhaps you were a little sloppy, and even annoying — but that can be forgiven and forgotten. However, if you truly behaved very badly, then you have to own it; not acknowledging your mistake is not an option.
2. Be proactive and approach your boss first.
If your behavior was truly inappropriate, you'll want to explain the situation to her (whether she was present or not) so that she doesn't hear it secondhand. Sure, swallowing your pride and embarrassment is tough, but approaching your boss before she comes to you puts you in control of the conversation.
Plan ahead and request a formal meeting with her, and do so as soon as possible after the incident. The last thing you'd want is for your boss to use you as an example of what not to do if she finds out about your behavior from someone other than you.
3. Show remorse and apologize.
It seems simple enough, but you have to express your remorse and apologize thoroughly. You must be sincere and genuine, or the apology will be a moot point. Don't make any excuses for your behavior and take full responsibility for your actions. Bonus points if you can explain a corrective action plan of your own on how to avoid this happening again in the future.
You could say, "[Boss's name], last night I drank too much and did not act as I should have at a company function. This will not happen again and I want to apologize for my behavior."
4. Apologize to your colleagues, if appropriate.
Be clear, concise and direct. Avoid drawing the conversation out too long, as it can only cause further embarrassment for all parties involved.
For example, if you were inappropriate, out-of-control, or just plain obnoxious, you could say, "Hey [insert coworker's name], I want to apologize for my actions last night. I made the mistake of drinking too much and I realize that my behavior wasn't appropriate for a work function. I hope you understand that this will not happen again and that I value you as a teammate/coworker."
5. Work hard to prove yourself.
Needless to say, you've taken a step backwards with your actions, and now need to put the full focus on your work performance. Be sure to bring your A game, and work hard at regaining the trust of your colleagues. Consider this to be your first 90 days on the job— all over again. Make sure you’re making the right impression this time.
6. Stay true to your word.
Needless to say — do not drink at future functions for the very immediate future. And, if you do decide to drink, be sure to have that trusted work BFF alongside you to be sure you're toeing the line of what is appropriate, and what isn't. (Avoid the tequila, for sure.) One drink and done is usually a safe bet.
Keep in mind that even with heartfelt apologies, your boss and co-workers might not take too kindly to your apology.
Some employers have a zero-tolerance policy, and it's quite possible that your job may be on the line for your offense. If they do not immediately accept, apologize again and ask what you can do to make it right. No matter their response, plan to put in the work both professionally and personally to make up for your mistake.
It takes hard work and some time, but if you can sincerely apologize, redefine your reputation and show results — your drunken night will likely be viewed as a long-forgotten memory.
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.