A bunch of new colleagues, unspoken rules, surprising customs - enough to shock even veteran members of the workforce, not to mention those starting in their first real first job. In fact, this experience is so widespread among newly graduated employees and interns that it has a name: “workplace culture shock”. Although both the length and the intensity of the shock phases differ from person to person, they typically include a passage through periods known as honeymoon, anxiety, adjustment and acceptance.
The bad news is that certain aspects of the shock may be pretty unpleasant. The good news is that there is plenty of ways to alleviate them and that you are not in it alone. Of course, you can always call your mum or best friend and cry over the phone for help and consolation. But before resorting to that, you want to start with trying some of our tips:
First, let’s rewind a bit. Preparing for your application, you will most probably be researching the company. To kill two birds with one stone, use this chance to prepare and learn about company’s brand, the message they communicate and how they do it - their website, social media channels and the kind of initiatives they may be involved in reveal a lot, as do press articles about the company or the interviews with their representatives. All these sources can give you an initial feel of what kind of people make the place and what sort of attitudes you may expect, which in turn can help to decrease the impact of the shock once you get hired.
This phase is usually pleasant. In the context of job hunting, it can - paradoxically - begin well before your actual first day at work. A kind of excitement, enthusiasm or euphoria is likely to kick in the moment you hear the long hoped for “We’d like to hire you” from HR. After due celebrations and joy there comes the time for your preparation for the shock: a scrutiny of your experiences.
“Experiences? I have none; it is my first job!” you may object. Well, even if that’s the case, we bet that you have already faced the unknown. Maybe you have travelled abroad? Surely you have been a freshman at university or high school at some point? Take your pick and list the things that worked well and those you struggled with the most. Then ask yourself: what made some things easier and others difficult? Your answers will help you to become aware of the mechanisms of the shock itself and understand your own reactions to it (you may find this guide on Emotional Intelligence handy). Go over the same questions with your friends, prepare for the day.
Because suddenly it comes, and despite your best intentions you may be stressed like officer Hoyt in Training Day, even if your boss is not as intimidating as Detective Alonzo Harris. Like Hoyt, you may bring your expectations, excitement and eagerness to fit in straight away. Well, do not: Unlike him, you have more than one day to prove yourself.
Facing unknown situations is likely to cause some frustration and anxiety. A mix of patience, curiosity and attentiveness is an attitude helpful in mitigating such feelings. Acclimatisation is a process, and like all processes, it simply takes time. So take yours to observe the organisation of the workflow, the way people approach tasks and interact together. How do they dress? Do they eat lunch together? Do they hang out after work? Observe and learn, do not speed things up and force upon yourself more than you can handle.
Of course, observation alone is not enough. Keep in mind that it is OK to ask questions if you are unsure. Perhaps you do not understand all the terms your colleagues are so casually throwing around? Don’t pretend you follow, communicate your problems and listen to your colleagues’ advice and explanation. Although it is natural to fear to sound unprofessional or silly, bear in mind that managers are perfectly aware that you may lack the hands-on experience, which is so hard to get. Therefore some companies offer mentor and ambassador programmes, a chance for a focused one-on-one discussion and closer cooperation with more experienced colleagues. Do not overlook this possibility if it’s offered you! And if it is not, talk to your manager or colleagues and share your worries. The sooner you do, the better.
So questions are definitely acceptable. So are some mistakes, which you, like many newcomers before, are likely to make. Should this happen, your best response is a smile and an honest apology. Stay positive and do not dwell on them, but also ensure that you (surprise surprise!) ask and understand what went wrong. The more you do, the milder this stage of the shock will be.
With the help of time, patience and the right attitude the phase of the initial insecurity will usually gradually turn into one of adjustment. One way to get there faster it to participate in various social events, informal activities or volunteering projects organised by many companies. Not only can they simply be fun, but they offer an excellent chance to get in contact with new colleagues without the usual pressures of daily job routine. Participate and get to know your co-workers better while also letting them know you.
It is good to understand, that it is in the company’s best interest to try to help newcomers (you!) to reach this phase as soon as possible. A shock, when ignored, easily translates to lower morale, lower output and lower retention rates. Therefore throughout the whole adaptation process, you and your boss are on the same page and share the same interest in reducing the negative impact of change you are undergoing.
You may have to wait a bit till you eventually go through the whole cycle and reach the final phase known as acceptance - at which point you won’t feel as much as a newbie anymore. If you prepare yourself for the shock and act calmly when it happens, the time when your new colleagues, rules and customs inspire and not intimidate you may come sooner than you think.
And this will be the right moment to call your mum or best friend: To share your joy instead of your tears!