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10 Workplace Lessons I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Just Starting Work

10 Workplace Lessons I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Just Starting Work

When you are starting working life, you have to be very careful to avoid making mistakes that could damage your career. Some experts say that the first three months are crucial because that is enough time to make or break you.

Here are the top ten new-to-the-workplace mistakes to avoid like the plague so you can get off to a great start. I know, I learned the hard way.

1. You think you know it all

Of course, you were the best candidate, but that does not mean that you are going to get the employee of the year award. Even if you know quite a few of the things that co-workers or managers are telling you, resist the urge to say ‘I know’ with impatience or rolling your eyes or other revealing body language.

2. You ignore the company culture and dress code

Look around you and see how people are dressed and conform to the pattern. You might look out for whether employees are showing off their latest tattoos or piercing, for example. Cover up if they are not!

3. You do not want to socialize

This is a huge mistake because one of the most effective ways of getting noticed in a new job is to use all the networking skills you have got. These are a great investment. That means chatting at the water cooler, accepting happy hours after work or simply inviting a colleague for coffee. Remembering people’s names and their roles is a great way to start. Also, look out for the people who are more influential in your section. Nobody is going to back a loner.

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4. You get involved in office politics

If you get involved immediately and are seen in certain cliques, this is not going to do you any good at all. Staying out of the gossip and political circles is a vital strategy in the first few months. Cultivate the art of sympathetic listening, without getting involved or committed. You can always rightly claim that you are still getting to know who’s who.

5. You are unaware of your body language

Time to educate yourself on the messages that you are sending. For example, when you stand with your arms folded as you listen to a co-worker explaining a new procedure, you are sending a closure signal. Maintaining eye contact is also important and avoid slouching when someone approaches you to tell you something.

The right body language goes hand in hand with what you are saying. It also helps in bonding, which is so important when you are starting out. Being aware of your voice pitch and its volume can also be a great help.

“We’re losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person’s mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point. Too much exclusive use of electronic information dehumanises what is a very, very important part of community and living together.” – Vincent Nichols

6. You are unaware of the importance of emotional intelligence

If you think emotional intelligence (EQ) is just a new fad, think again! I never thought it was something to bother about because I am fairly empathic anyway. Observing colleagues was an eye opener and I could quickly see that those with high EQ were getting promotions faster.

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I remember a fellow worker who always said ‘yes.’ He went on to become a senior manager in no time at all, and yet he was not very well qualified. It was his emotional intelligence that really helped him to rocket to the top.

Basically, controlling your emotions and being acutely aware of their effect on your colleagues is key. Learning how to gauge and empathize with colleagues, clients, managers and stakeholders is extremely important.

No surprise to learn that psychologists estimate that IQ can account for a maximum of 25% in career success. The rest of the whopping 75% is mostly occupied by social skills and emotional intelligence.

“What matters is hard work, and emotional intelligence.” – Millard Drexler

7. You do not ask for feedback

If you think that your boss is going to notice what you are doing straightaway, don’t be so sure! He or she might not. Keep them in the loop by asking for a quick meeting so that you are both on the same page.

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It is a great chance to spell out what you are doing, what you have learned and any obstacles you are encountering. Telling your boss that you are able to stick to the deadline is also going to make a great impression.

“An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager.” – Bob Nelson

8. You think that taking notes is not trendy

If you have an impeccable memory, this is fine. If not, then join 95% of the working population. In a new job, if you do not take notes, you may well find that you have to ask colleagues to explain, clarify and remind you again. This is a great way to watch your popularity sink.

9. You forget to check what the media policy is

If you assume that it is legit to update your Facebook status at a slack time, you might be in for a shock. The same goes for texting, using laptops and iPhones in meetings and in the workplace generally. Just check out what people are doing, and then act accordingly once you realize how strict or lenient they are on media.

10. You are not a good listener

Being an active listener and not switching off is a great asset. Learning the art of listening is another investment that will stand you in good stead.

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Spending as much time in preparing to listen as you do when you speak is a great rule to follow. Showing that you are listening by using the right body language and offering feedback are other great skills you can acquire.

Once you are aware of these mistakes and how to avoid them, you will become successful in the corporate world. It’s not rocket science!

Featured photo credit: Amazon.com Welcome New Hires/ Will Merydith via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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