Tuesday, April 20, 2010

5 Important Rules for New Employees

No one forgets their first job, just like no one forgets their first love. It's imprinted in our brains, part of what makes us who we are today. While many first jobs are tough -- who doesn't remember the boss yelling or co-workers giving us a hard time because we were young ? -- the situation being faced by young employees today is pretty difficult. There's little patience for workers who don't hit the ground running, which is one of the reasons I did this story for Gannett...

Everyone has felt first-job jitters, but for today’s new employees the nerves may be even worse as they face a workplace with high expectations and little patience for poor performance or bad behavior.

Adding to the tension for new workers is the fact that colleagues and bosses – often now doing the work of several people after layoffs in the last year -- have little time or resources to show them the ropes. The result can be a confusing and frustrating for inexperienced employees, who may not realize that their missteps may land them back in the unemployment ranks.

Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg, who often work with college students, say young workers often enter the working world unprepared, since there’s often little preparation in the college classroom. That’s why these new employees may pull what others consider real no-nos – such as claiming they’re “bored” at work, Lineberg says.

“They don’t know that you never sit idle at work, staring aimlessly. If you’re done with a job, you should get up and ask someone what you can do to help,” he says. “You never say you’re bored – but no one has told them that.”

Bennington says workers face a world often far different than what they’re used to. She says she’s noticed that many young workers are uncomfortable communicating face-to-face, or even via phone. They feel much more comfortable texting or e-mailing, but she notes “that business still comes down to trust and communication – and that means you need to communicate in person.”

Notes Lineberg: “I’ve heard some young folks complain when people call them on their phone. They feel like the other person is intruding on their time. They just want to get a text.”

In a new book, “Effective Immediately: How to Fit In., Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job,” (Ten Speed Press, $14.99), Lineberg and Bennington try to give new workers a leg up in the business world so that they don’t make mistakes that could hurt their first-job success.

Among their suggestions:

  • Fridays are not for making weekend plans. Instead, use the last day of your work week to submit an update to the boss. In a concise e-mail, use bullet-points to bring your manager up to speed on what you’ve completed and what you’re working on. Also outline your schedule and set goals for the upcoming week.
  • Never send an e-mail when you’re upset. The authors call these missives a “nastygram” and can backfire if you send a message in the heat of the moment. How to know you shouldn’t send it? If it’s after 10 p.m. or if you’ve been mentally composing it all the way home, through dinner and during your favorite television show, they say. “If you’re upset, write the message, but don’t send it. Wait two hours and re-read it. If you still feel the same, try to talk to the person personally or on the phone,” Lineman says.
  • Daily pleasantries are required. You may communicate with friends mostly through text or e-mail, but in the workplace you need to look someone in the eye, smile and say something like, “Good morning” or “You look nice today.” Offering “I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from you” can go a long way toward winning over co-workers.
  • Bosses want to hear bad news. They may not love getting the grim tidings, but it’s better to offer bad news sooner rather than later. Always communicate what’s happening with projects or relay concerns – they don’t like having to ferret out information you should have been providing.
  • Read the rule book. On your first day you were probably given a stack of paperwork to sign and shuttled off to human resources where you signed more stuff and were given an employee handbook. Read the handbook as soon as possible, including the small print. That’s where you’ll find company policies that you need to follow – such as not using company computers for checking Facebook or downloading music. Violating these rules can get you fired before the ink is dry on your paperwork.
What other suggestions would you have for new employees?



Film Co. Lawyer said...

As someone who in some ways is still the new girl in town when it comes to the working world, one thing that I think has contributed to my success is listening to people who have more experience. Everyone has a viewpoint & if you let people advise you/help you, you help yourself. You also get a chance to learn from others' mistakes. Self-education is something a decent boss notices & encourages.

At the same time, I think you have to look out for yourself. Some people will not care about you or have your interests at heart; some would throw you under a flaming bus & sell their mother to move up the ladder (this is very true in the legal world). Even if you aren't wild about a first job, you can always use bad experiences to guide how you'd do things if you were in charge.

I'd think not downloading things to work computers or browsing porn sites would be self-evident but I guess it isn't? It was to me at that age & I'm under 30.

Anita said...

Film Co. Lawyer,
I think you've offered some very smart insights. I will say that making some of these mistakes isn't only for young workers -- I've had bosses tell me about more experienced workers who visit porn sites at work, or think that bullying someone else is a good "get ahead" strategy.
Thanks for adding to the list...those are great suggestions.

Unknown said...

I'd like to add a 6th rule. Don't have too much to drink at the Friday night after work drinks at Head office and then insult he MD by calling his favourite TV show (Dallas) a load of cr&p!

Anita said...

Hmmm..sounds like you're perhaps sharing a personal story? I guess your bottom line is to watch your alcohol intake around a boss...good 6th rule. (But I have to agree "Dallas" was pretty lame...)