LSE Careers recently ran a series of workshops on ‘Skills in the workplace’ including one about etiquette. Whether you’re about to start your first ‘proper’ job or are moving to a new organisation we all share similar worries about that first day in the new job. What exactly will I be doing? Will I like my work colleagues? Will they like me? How do they do things here? And what does ‘dress down Friday’ actually mean?
First, relax. Whether it’s first day at school, at university or at a new workplace, we all quickly learn the social and cultural norms, and in no time we have seamlessly become part of our new tribe!
Here one of the contributors to this workshop, Garcia Williamson, an HR professional with experience across a range of workplaces and sectors, offers some hints and tips to help you on your way built around the mnemonic POLITE:
P is for People
Investing time in getting to know as many people as possible during your first few days is absolutely critical, before your diary fills up completely. If you find it hard to remember names, faces and personal details, try making some easily accessible notes which you can refer to when you meet people for the second and third time. Whether you feel nervous and shy or brimming with confidence, it pays to think about your body language too. Smiling and nodding, a firm handshake, good eye contact and having a couple of practised elevator pitches that allow you to introduce yourself to different people and start building a rapport, are all easy and effective.
O is for Open
There’s nothing like a volunteer and the quickest way to learn and become accepted is to be open to everything, from offering to take a turn to make the coffee or copy some meeting notes, to helping out on projects or getting involved in supporting the organisation’s social or charitable activities.
L is for Likeable
We all want to be liked and respected at work but we need to earn that early on. Of course you’re employed to work hard and you’ll need to really focus as you begin to move up the learning curve, but it is also important to be yourself. Try to have a good sense of humour, be patient and empathetic towards others. and above all don’t be drawn into the whining and moaning conversations. If your work colleagues invite you for breakfast, lunch, a drink or to participate in some sporting or social activities, do try and make time to join in. If you refuse at the beginning they may not ask you again!
I is for Interested
Being curious and demonstrating a genuine interest will help you quickly feel you belong. You may think that all you are doing is firing questions at your colleagues and asking for help, so remind yourself to say thank you and show your appreciation, and something edible for the office always works! Check with your colleagues about baffling matters such as dress codes, open door policies, what is expected from a ‘one-to-one’ with your manager. and the acceptable time to leave in the evening or on a Friday. Ask someone in the know to also explain all that incomprehensible jargon and what the multitude of acronyms mean.
T is for Task-driven
Results will inevitably define your future, and your achievements will be noticed more than the effort or hours that you work. A good mantra to observe in the early days is to under-promise and over-deliver on your commitments, helping you to build a reputation as someone who gets things done. Carrying out that extra piece of research before embarking on a project, or soliciting the views of a range of stakeholders, will enable you build advocacy and influencing skills too.
E is for Enthusiastic
Positivity and enthusiasm are the ‘special sauce’ that will help you glide through the etiquette maze to become fully integrated in your new organisation. Become famous for answering that well-worn question ‘How are you?’ with an upbeat ‘Fantastic!’ response, or, make a conscious effort in meetings to avoid saying the word ‘but’, replacing it with the word ‘and’. Your attitude and behaviour will inevitably be under some scrutiny during the early days but with a positive mindset you are equipping yourself for success.
Many organisations now offer support mechanisms to help, particularly recent graduates, quickly adapt to a new workplace environment. You may even be offered a buddy or someone else to help with the ‘on-boarding’ process before you start. Do take up these initiatives which are really designed to help succeed from the start. Even if your employer doesn’t offer this at the outset, it’s worth asking to be allocated a buddy (someone at your level or in your team who can help you with the organisational politics) or a mentor (someone more senior who can you can talk to and who offers advice and support).
Best of luck in your new job!