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News for the Newbie

Believe it or don't — there are people out there who are actually getting hired.

Oh, there are not many people and the jobs they're getting are not always so great, but every once in a while, there is a new hire. And if that new hire is you, then congratulations — you're a newbie.

It has always been difficult to be the new kid on the block, but these days, it's even more of a challenge. The "block," you see, has not only become run down in recent years; it's virtually bombed out. What with employee layoffs and budget cutbacks, those bright, shining newbies are not just walking into a new environment. They're walking into a battle zone.

The fate of the newly hatched newbie is the subject of a recent article in the Careers section of The Wall Street Journal. As writer Dennis Nishi so piquantly points out, "the new staffers who join those who have survived layoffs or cutbacks might find those existing employees wary of newcomers and resentful of the extra workload they've had to take on during the downturn."

If Nishi had asked me, which he didn't, I would have suggested that the first lesson for the newbie is to take all the glee and joy they feel at being employed and stifle it. No one wants to share their cubical with a happy, optimistic individual for whom the world is a bright, sunny place with opportunities galore.

On the other hand, you don't want be too negative. Since you haven't suffered the agonies and humiliations of the workplace survivors, it's only decent to wait a proper amount of time before you start complaining about the dysfunctional management. Given the state of management today, that proper amount of time is 15 minutes. Of course, they're dysfunctional! They hired you, didn't they?

Margaret Morford, a management and training consultant, does not agree with my analysis. Indeed, she recommends that newbies avoid joining the chorus of naysayers. "Stay out of the conflicts. If a co-worker needs to vent, tell them that you prefer not to hear anything negative," she says. "Whatever you do, don't join in on the negative talk."

I'm sure Morford has the best intentions, but if you refuse to say or listen to negative office chatter, what in the world are you going to talk about? Wait until something positive happens, and you could be retired before you ever open your mouth!

Another suggestion is to offer to help your overworked colleagues with some of the tasks left behind by all their co-workers who were fired. As author Nishi points out, it's important that you "don't be surprised if you are first met with suspicion in your attempts."

A fellow employee may be grouching about doing extra work, but on some level, that employee also realizes that if it wasn't for their willingness to use their lunch break to detail the boss's Mercedes, they would have been fired long ago. Just the thought of a bright and shiny newbie, offering to grab a chamois in workplace fellowship, may be enough to evoke a nasty attack.

Even offering to bring coffee for the guys could trigger an unfortunate scene. Imagine your new co-workers breaking into uncontrolled sobbing as you arrive with a cardboard tray of lattes. "Look, he forgot the Sweet & Low," they might sob. "That's what Marjorie used to do before the boss fired her butt."

The experts do suggest a few moves that can endear the newbie to their beaten and battered co-workers. You could go to lunch with your colleagues and let them know first-hand that a blithering idiot like yourself is certainly no threat. If worse comes to worse, you could find yourself a mentor, "someone who can help you navigate the workplace and break the ice for you."

I like this idea. Find a successful, decent, honorable senior manager and slip yourself under their avuncular little wing. Then, after they have integrated you into the group, you can step out from under and steal their job.

If you do have a tough time at the beginning, be of good cheer. "Experts say it can take up to four months to truly get a picture of a new workplace and the underlying social dynamics," Nishi concludes. In four months, chances are you'll be fired, and then, by golly, you'll be a newbie no more.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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