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Office Survival Guide

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— October 8, 2017

Office Survival Guide

  • Here are some of the best ways to make your work life work for you.
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Office Survival Guide

Here are some of the best ways to make your work life work for you.

Curate Your Look

Many companies have relaxed their dress codes, even in traditionally buttoned-up professions like accounting. In fact, a 2017 survey by recruitment firm Robert Half Finance & Accounting found that 61% of CFOs described their office dress code as “somewhat casual” and 13% described it as “very casual.” But don’t just roll into the office wearing flip-flops and a hoodie. “A lot of the people making hiring decisions are not Millennials,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself (St. Martin’s). “Baby Boomers grew up in a world where everyone wore a suit. If you dress well, it’s going to influence the people making the biggest decisions at the largest companies.” Standards vary by industry and by company. If you aren’t sure if it’s appropriate to show off your ink or wear jeans, ask your supervisor, suggests Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, a consulting firm that helps organizations engage younger employees. “I am familiar with a large corporation that has a policy that they call the ‘B policy,’ which is no boobs, no belly button, and no butt can show,” Sladek says. That same company “has a policy that you can’t show up the next day wearing the same clothes you wore the day before.” If your company doesn’t have a formal dress code, observe what others wear, especially if they’re respected in the organization. Not only does this show that you take your job seriously, but “how you dress has a psychological impact on your work performance,” Schawbel says.

Mind the Generation Gap

Don’t waltz into a new job expecting instant respect. That can piss off older workers who “want their opinions to be deferred to and want people to understand the importance of their experience,” says Jennifer J. Deal of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. “When you walk into a job and you’re new, especially if you’re new and young, you don’t have as much clout.” Respect is earned, so listen more than you speak. Even if you’re following verbal instructions, you may miss out on subtler messages if you fail to read between the lines of what a supervisor or colleague says. “People you report to won’t always say ‘don’t do that,’” Deal says. The idea is to read between the lines: For example, your boss may not want you working a side hustle, but they may not come out and say this explicitly. Ask older colleagues the best way to communicate before firing off a text. “Make sure you are using the method that is most appropriate for them,” says Alexandra Levit, author of Blindspots (Berkley). “Sometimes younger Millennials assume that everything can now be texted when they’d be better off sending a voicemail or walking down the hall.” Even if a colleague is cool with texting, don’t send them emojis or use textspeak unless they use it first.

Excel at Email

Email makes it easy to share documents or communicate with coworkers anywhere—sometimes too easy. “People often will go through a long email chain when the person sits 20 feet away,” says Deal. “Unless you need the documentation of an email stream, go and talk to them, especially if the person is older than you are.” That can show initiative and help build rapport between you and your colleagues. Schawbel suggests making emails actionable to show professionalism; for instance, “here’s an update, here’s why it matters, here’s what to do about it.” Also, use clear subject lines so that the recipients know what to expect and can easily find your message. If an email puts you on the defensive, it’s tempting to fire back without thinking. However, knee-jerk reactions can damage your relationships with coworkers. “Don’t just shoot off an email when you’re feeling emotional or frustrated,” Sladek cautions. Take a few breaths to reread your response and make sure it sends the right tone before hitting Send. Nor should you treat email with the same nonchalance you’d give a text message. “Texting can be very abbreviated,” Sladek says. “Workplace communication needs to be handled more sensitively. ‘Am I phrasing this correctly? Am I using good grammar?’”

Don’t Let Student Debt Derail You

High student loan balances are an unfortunate reality for many recent grads. The Federal Reserve reports that two-thirds of people between 18 and 29 with a bachelor’s degree carry student loans. “College debt for some people is so insurmountable that it really does wreak havoc on their lives and therefore wreaks havoc on the employment situation,” Sladek says. Debt stress can make it challenging to focus at work or prevent you from taking a low-paying internship or job that could help you advance in your chosen field. Sladek says debt is also one reason “why we see some young people juggling numerous jobs or having some sort of side gig.” Side gigs can be productive if they help pay off debt or boost your skill-set, but constant hustling can lead to burnout or distract you from your main job. “I think the best thing to do when you have student loans is to see a good financial advisor,” says Levit. “Make sure you have your ducks in a row and you’re in a position where you’re making enough money but also taking care of those loans in a timely manner.” An advisor might help you compare options such as refinancing private student loans to a lower interest rate or, if you have federal loans, qualifying for programs such as loan forgiveness or pay-as-you-earn programs.

Seek Out Mentors and Sponsors

Connecting with people who can be helpful may make it easier to navigate office politics and prepare for advancement. What’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? “Mentors are people who are typically around your same level, maybe one to two years ahead of you,” Levit explains. “They can help advise you on everyday career matters,” such as getting interrupted during presentations or wanting to negotiate a more flexible work schedule. A sponsor, on the other hand, is higher up in an organization. “They can shepherd you through the organization,” Levit says. “Millennials need both types. Women, in particular, don’t seek out sponsors as much as men do.” The best mentors or sponsors generally share a generosity of spirit. “They enjoy helping people out so let them see what you’re all about, let them feel invested in you,” Levit recommends. Schawbel adds, “Do your homework on them before approaching them so you understand their needs and how you can both benefit from each other.” Sladek says the most effective way to connect with potential mentors is to invite them to coffee or lunch. “It’s the informational-interview approach, simply asking someone to give you some time so you could ask some questions and get their guidance, and in the process, you forge a relationship with that person,” she explains.

Become Social Media Savvy

According to estimates from CNBC, Facebook users have spent an equivalent of $3.5 trillion in wasted productivity. (Many companies recognize keeping employees off such sites at work is a losing battle.) While social media can help you stay connected to people who could be helpful, its potential downsides for both companies and their employees extend beyond time-suck. Comparisons are one issue. “The more you log into Facebook, the more likely you are to compare your life to your friends online,” cautions Schawbel. “The longer you spend on Facebook, the more depressed you are.” A friend may post about a promotion or a home purchase, but they rarely mention the help they got from parents or stress involved with those milestones, so you’re not getting the whole story. What’s more, “if you gossip about someone online, that could hurt your career,” Schawbel adds. Even if you gossip or rant anonymously, it may be traced back to the source. When used smartly, social media can help you create a strong personal brand, but Schawbel encourages employees to “create more in-person conversations or more phone calls” rather than hiding behind email and social media. “You need to create your own work experience regardless of your management by befriending teammates, learning as much as possible and setting up your workday so you’re maximizing your talents and time,” Schawbel says.

 

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