25 Oct 2021

The New Recruit’s Guide to Starting Work

Are you about to start a new job? Or maybe you were hired during the pandemic and only now are able to contemplate actually going to the office and meeting your new colleagues in the flesh.

Whatever your situation, the first week at work can be a daunting prospect. You will have to attend closely to work requirements, new technology and unfamiliar protocols. You will have to make the acquaintance of new colleagues, put names to faces (and remember them) and project a positive and amiable demeanour. On a more subtle level you will need to read the situation, understand the office culture and calibrate your behaviour accordingly.

We have compiled some advice to help new recruits navigate their first days at work.

The First Week at Work Survival Guide:

1.) Ask for Help when You Need It

Your first few days in an office are not a test to see how you perform under pressure. So if you feel confused by office procedures, puzzled by the photocopiers, and completely outwitted by the computer system, don’t just sit tight, trying to tough it out. You will be judged not by the mistakes you make, but how quickly you learn from them.

Single out a kind, helpful person – very possibly the colleague who was given the task of welcoming you – and indicate that you need some help. It’s best to do this diplomatically, perhaps saying ‘When you’ve got a moment, I wonder if you could help? I’m a bit stuck…’, rather than marching up to their desk and saying ‘I don’t know how to unjam the photocopier…’

2.) Respect Territorial Boundaries

Don’t assume that, just because some action doesn’t bother you, it won’t annoy others – leaving caps off pens, leaving untidy piles of papers on a desk, not putting things back in drawers, etc. Ask politely before you borrow anything and make sure you return it, and leave your desk neat and tidy at the end of the day. Your aim in these first few days should be to project a discreet and inoffensive persona. As you become more comfortable and more familiar with the office culture you will be able to reveal more about your individuality and character.

3.) Take Your Turn

Office life can throw all sorts of incompatible people together in close proximity and it is important that everyone finds ways of rubbing along together and getting the job done. Demonstrate from the outset that you are a team player – make tea and coffee for your colleagues, take your turn to do the washing up in the staff kitchen, offer to pick up sandwiches for other people if you are going out at lunchtime.

4.) When in Rome…

You will need to very observant in the first few days, so that you can fully understand the office culture. If the general tone of the office is quiet and reserved, then boisterously friendly overtures on the part of the newcomer may be out of place and unwelcome. If the general impression is that staff in the office keep themselves very much to themselves, then this has to be respected, even if it doesn’t seem the right way to work.

Similarly, if the office buzzes with chatter and banter, then an unyieldingly frigid response to every overture of friendship isn’t appropriate. Most workplaces have a detectable culture, covering such diverse questions as informal socialising after-hours and willingly stepping in to alleviate a colleague’s workload. The newcomer ignores this at his or her peril.

5.) Treat Gossip with Circumspection

There will be those who wish to initiate the new recruit into the office gossip, and they should be treated with extreme caution. Over-eagerness to find out about the gossip and even join in might mean that you fall foul of important people; gossip is particularly dangerous for the uninitiated. Remain polite but make your excuses and leave.

6.) Be cautious about criticism

A newcomer may be bursting to communicate how much better he or she handled matters at a previous workplace. There are few things worse than the daily frustration of knowing that it’s possible to work faster and more efficiently but not being allowed to do so. But your new colleagues may find a newcomer’s criticisms presumptuous so tact is needed here: bide your time and settle in before finding the right person to talk to, and if you do have a conversation, use the subtle power of tentative and positive suggestion, rather than bludgeoning them with hard facts.

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