Your first office job will be a learning curve, whether you’re a fresh graduate entering the workforce or transitioning careers from a more active line of work. Entering office life can be intimidating at first, and you wouldn’t be the first to experience culture shock. To ease the transition, we’ve compiled a list of sage advice for your first office job, to help you survive your first days in the office and beat the cubicle blues.
First impressions count
Your first few days of an office job will be a whirlwind of meeting new faces and absorbing information. Take special care to remember the names of as many team members as possible - this may require subtly keeping a list in your phone. Smile a lot, say please and thank you and remain polite. Be neat and presentable (read more about how to dress for work here). Say “hi” to those you ride the lift with. Don’t be overly self-deprecating about yourself, you want your new co-workers to get the impression you’re friendly and capable.
An office environment is mostly sedentary and sitting at a desk is taxing on your body. Stand up and walk around regularly, look up some stretches you can perform at your desk and try to exercise after work or on your lunch break. Being still for long periods of time isn’t good for your mental or physical health, and although your brain may be fatigued by the end of your day, your body won’t be. Moving and exercising regularly will increase your energy levels and improve your sleep.
There is nothing professional about office gossip, and just because you witness it going on doesn’t mean you have to participate. With quiet observation you’ll learn who is trustworthy, who is influential, and who to avoid. Understand office politics but don’t actively participate. Even with teammates you like or trust, remain civil about those you don’t gel with. Spreading rumours or unkind words about a fellow employee will damage your own reputation far more than it will damage theirs. Read more about this in our article, “How to Avoid Office Gossip and Why You Should”.
Be right on time
Punctuality is key! This is usually pretty easy in the first week, when nervous jitters have you leaving the house half an hour before you really have to. But once you’ve settled in, don’t become complacent. It may seem like a small thing, but rocking up late to work gives the impression you don’t respect the job or workplace enough to be on time. If everyone else makes the effort to be there on time, why shouldn’t you? Lateness symbolises indifference and unreliability. Even if no one says anything, you can trust people notice when you arrive late but are far less observant when you work overtime.
Good things take time
Sometimes acclimatising to a new workplace is slow going. Particularly if it’s your first time working in an office environment, making friends and adjusting to the responsibilities of your role could take longer than you expect. Don’t be disheartened, with perseverance and commitment you’ll be a valued member of the team in no time. Say yes to invitations for lunch or drinks, but be sure you don’t drink heavily! Maybe seek out a friendly senior member of the team as a mentor - they’ll lend invaluable advice about how to work within your specific office environment. Learn more about the benefits of having a mentor here.
Emails are eternal
Never send an unprofessional email. Everything you write and send is evidence that may be used against you. This sounds serious and it is. If you wouldn’t want your boss to read what you’ve written you definitely shouldn’t send it.
Ask for it in writing
By the same vein, ask for any important update to be supplied in writing. Performance reviews, special instructions, legal advice, complaints, compliments, meeting notes, payroll queries and professional feedback are all matters that can and often should be documented via email. This ensures transparency and accountability within the workplace. If you feel uncomfortable asking, you can send a follow up email and summary yourself, i.e. “Dear John, as per our discussion today I understand my instructions/responsibilities to be that…”
Make the most of your lunch break
Even if it’s just a few days a week, pack yourself healthy, filling lunches and, when you can, step out into the fresh air to eat it. Working the 9-5 grind will be pretty exhausting at first. Your body takes time to adjust to a new schedule, and packing lunch might be the last priority on your list. However, it will save you crucial money and time. Don’t waste your hard earned lunch break standing in a queue to buy a salad wrap you could have made yourself for a fraction of the price. On Fridays you can skip the packed lunch and join your co-workers for a communal meal, as this is an awesome way to cement friendships.
Keep a bag of ‘just in case’ items under your desk. Things like pain relief and any other medication you take regularly, bandaids, an umbrella, an extra pair of stockings or a clean tie, a clean shirt, a spare warm layer. This small amount of preparation can save you from all kinds of anxiety inducing scenarios. Plus, you might make a new friend by being able to help a workmate out of a sticky situation.
This sounds like a no brainer, but always strive to go above and beyond. Meet your deadlines, triple check your work before you submit it, volunteer for the boring or menial tasks, lend a hand when a co-worker needs it and share your expert knowledge with the office if you have any. Offer to take the minutes in meetings. This will help you focus on what’s being said, and will also allow you to be privy to knowledge and expertise you might not otherwise have been. If you’re a young graduate you will probably be expected to have excellent computing skills, so brush up on those before you start (read more about why IT skills are great for any job here). Being able to offer assistance to someone struggling to use Excel will earn you serious brownie points. Your efforts will be noticed.
Now that you’ve entered the corporate world, be sure to check out our category of other career-related articles on how to further yourself up the ladder and be the best, most valuable asset you can be.