Adjusting to a New Job: 11 Tips for Navigating an Unfamiliar Environment
by Haley Lyles
After months of job searching, applications and interviews, you finally get a job offer, and you excitedly accept. The opportunity and security that the new position offers are exciting and you can't wait for your first day on the job. Once you arrive, the first day, week or even month may be a stressful adjustment period. According to a recent study, the average employee takes eight months to reach full integration and productivity. During this transitional time, you will notice unfamiliar office culture, peer-to-peer dynamics, management styles and industry jargon. With time these things will become second nature, but until then you must navigate this unfamiliar territory.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of employees to lose their jobs, causing the unemployment rate in the U.S. to reach 14.7% in April 2020. As social distancing measures begin to loosen and people start finding new jobs, there will be a large adjustment period for these workers who are not only entering a new position, but re-entering a newly structured workforce that was heavily impacted by the pandemic.
If you're adjusting to a new job, use these tips to navigate a new working environment and get up to speed as fast as you can.
Adjusting to a New Job: The First Day
1. Make Connections
Though the first day on the job is often filled with introductions, training and onboarding meetings, try to take the time to make a connection or two with people in the office. That connection could be with your supervisor, deskmate or someone you met in the lunchroom. According to the Well-Being in the Workplace study, having supportive relationships at work is not only enjoyable but it is an essential element for workplace happiness. In fact, the study showed that relationships were the single most important factor for workplace well-being, above accomplishments and engagement.
2. Access Lunch Culture
Lunch can be a stressful time on your first day. You have to decide whether you should bring your lunch or not and where you will eat when the time comes. In the workplace, it turns out that lunch is bigger than catching up over sandwiches. A study from Cornell University revealed that offices that eat lunch together have higher performance rates than offices that don't. Though it can be uncomfortable, join the group of people in the break room or tag along to the deli down the street. This effort will let your new coworkers know that you are excited to participate in their lunch culture.
3. Handle the Anxiety
Those familiar feelings of stress and anxiety as you walk into a new workplace are actually a hardwired response to entering unfamiliar territory. Keith Rollag, associate professor of organizational behavior at Babson College explains, "During the hunter-gatherer days, encountering a stranger usually occurred when you were moving into another tribe's territory, and that was stressful and potentially dangerous. Humans had to quickly decide whether the stranger was a friend or foe and take appropriate action." This ingrained response is on full display when you enter a new workplace. Here are some ways to tackle those feelings:
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Set up your desk to be comfortable and recharging.
- Develop a morning routine.
- Look for a work buddy.
Adjusting to a New Job: The First Week
4. Build a Foundation for Your Workplace Reputation
As you enter into your first week of employment at your new job, everything you do from introductions and punctuality to attitude and work ethic helps build your workplace reputation. In your first few weeks, make it a priority to turn every task in on time and ask for feedback to ensure that you are completing them correctly.
5. Avoid Comparison
Whether you came from the best company in the world or one of the worst, your new position is inevitably going to come with new challenges — spending time comparing your old position with your current one is just going to cause frustration. Career coach Chrissy Scivicque calls this mistake "Comparison Syndrome" and claims that it can actually give your new coworkers a reason to separate you, which only makes integrating into the new office culture more difficult.
6. Go the Extra Mile
As your coworkers get to know you in the first week, offer your time and skills to show that you're a team player. If you're a strong copy editor, offer to read over important emails; if you're tech-savvy, you could fix a coworker's computer issue. Tonya Echols of Thrive Coaching Solutions says, "Nothing builds trust and connection like helping someone out of a challenging situation, especially when it is done freely and without expectation of repayment or owing anyone a favor."
7. Take Culture Notes
Every workplace is different so be sure to take mental notes of unfamiliar attitudes and behaviors. As you become accustomed to the new work culture, you'll notice things about office politics, internal communication and management. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you observe for the first few weeks:
- What is the dress code like?
- How do employees interact with their supervisors?
- Do employees enjoy lunch or happy hour together?
- How collaborative are employees?
- Are coworkers competitive?
8. Promote Positivity
As you begin to gain the trust of your peers you may start to be included in workplace gossip sessions. These guilty pleasure conversations can range from mild complaints about management to full-blown bullying. Though it can be tempting to indulge, try to avoid contributing to workplace gossip as it can quickly lead to hurt feelings, office drama and, in some cases, termination. In these situations, it is best to either separate yourself or steer the conversation away from negativity.
Adjusting to a New Job: The First Quarter
9. Develop a Relationship with Your Manager
Your manager or supervisor will often be your biggest advocate at work and the key to your success at the company. Strive to develop a relationship that practices open communication and mutual respect. A few ways you can improve your relationship with your manager are to:
- Initiate frequent meetings to discuss progress and growth.
- Show your initiative by asking questions.
- Be kind and considerate to them even when you are frustrated.
- Come to them with honest feedback to establish open communication.
10. Evaluate Your Impact
Depending on your company you may have annual, semi-annual or quarterly performance reviews. These assessments are critical for career growth. If your company only does performance reviews once per year or opts for some other performance tracking system, talk with your manager about building a first quarter review to track your progress. Sitting down and discussing your growth can be motivating and can help you build effective goals.
11. Express Interest in Growth
The past three months have been full of adjustments as you settled into your new position. Though it may take closer to a year to be fully integrated into your position and company culture, the end of the first quarter is a great time to assess your growth potential. Talk to your manager about growth opportunities and make a plan to work toward it.
If you're entering a new position in this workforce that has been heavily impacted by COVID-19, use these tips to push anxiety to the side and get up to speed as fast as possible. If you haven't found your new position yet, keep your resume updated and keep hunting for that next job.