The Office: Fitting Into the Culture - Amanda Yale
When I first started to think about writing this issue on fitting into office culture, I did what any marginally technologically savvy person would do. I went to the internet for guidance. Interestingly, the predominant message from all who chose to write on the subject, including psychologists, career counselors, lawyers, and others was the same. They advised you to attend social functions outside of work. It is at these gatherings where you learn about the real office culture, they said. Is it a casual place where people stop to talk to you as they pass your door or cubicle and ask about your weekend? Or is it a more formal work environment where you need to make an appointment before talking to your supervisor about your assignment? Once you know what kind of office it is, you will have a better idea of how to fit into it.
Also important in knowing how to fit into the office scene is understanding yourself and how you establish relationships. Are you an extrovert—someone who enjoys talking to lots of different people whether you have anything in common or not? Small talk is not a burden for you. Mingling and socializing is a pleasure. Or are you an introvert—someone who feels uncomfortable in large social gatherings and prefers to focus on one or two relationships at a time? The extrovert won’t mind going out with co-workers for weekly happy hours, but the introvert may.
Employers usually go out of their way to make interns feel comfortable, especially in social situations. If you are nervous about going out with co-workers, consider asking someone from work if you can go together. Sometimes just entering a room with another person can put you at ease. If it is an organized work function, such as a co-worker’s birthday celebration in the conference room, ask to volunteer to help set up the event. Sometimes having a job can make you feel more relaxed. Don’t feel like you must attend every work related social gathering, eat lunch with co-workers every day, or even join the organization’s summer softball team, unless of course you want to. But do attend two or three events throughout the summer where you will have the opportunity to talk to co-workers about things other than your memo or complaint. You will undoubtedly learn a lot about your office’s culture. The more you know about the office, the more comfortable you will feel at work. The more comfortable you feel, the easier it is to fit in.
A quick aside about social functions: remember to drink in moderation. That means one to two drinks max. The last outcome you want is to get drunk and embarrass yourself. It also defeats the point of taking the opportunity to learn about and rememberthe valuable nuggets of intel about your office’s culture.
Here are a few additional thoughts about fitting into the office culture and avoiding sticking out in a bad way.
Do not gossip about co-workers . . . or anyone, for that matter, even if others are doing so. Definitely do not talk badly about your supervisor to anyone in the office – save your frustrations for friends or family outside of work.
Feel free to share about your life, as this is a good way for people to get to know you and to decide they like you. But, be sure to be professional. Over-sharing or being crude won’t help your reputation.
If possible, find a buddy at work. This should be someone you feel comfortable talking to, and can ask important yet basic questions to, such as, Where is the bathroom? How much time do we get for lunch? Can I wear jeans on Fridays? Knowing the basic operations of the office early on will allow you to be more comfortable at work.
Assess the office dress code and follow it. If everyone wears business casual, please do not come to work in Bermuda shorts and sandals, even if it’s 95 degrees outside. If you are confused about how to dress for work, ask your buddy.
Here is some advice from alum, Dana Tapper ’13. “Be yourself, but just maybe not all at once. Spend your first couple of weeks observing the culture of the office, and then find your place in it.” The culture of your office can mean as much for your happiness as the actual work you do.
Next week: Networking