New job remorse: When you’re struggling with a new position
What’s happening? Navigating thorny work situations
Hello, we are Kate and Lori. Every few months or so, we pick a thorny work situation that’s rarely talked about, share our perspectives on what’s happening, and what you can do if you’re caught in the same situation.
You open the brand new laptop, register for your new email address, and update your LinkedIn profile. You introduce yourself to coworkers and try to get acquainted with everyone. You’re navigating the maze that’s called “onboarding,” slowly figuring out your place in this new environment. Then anxiety creeps in, “Did I do the right thing in taking this new job? I feel like a fish out of water. What if this wasn’t the right move?”
Ooh, deep cleansing breath. While it will take a while to know whether the job lives up to your expectations, let's address some of the issues that make a new working environment challenging.
Scenario 1: You joined a well-established team and feel out of place.
It can feel like that childhood game, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong?” The first thing to soak in is that this is normal. It takes a while to find your footing. If you’re bringing a new set of skills or expertise to the team, you may make the mistake of trying to fit in by letting people know about your experience and/or telling them how they should do things going forward. That often goes over like a lead balloon. You’ll feel even more out of place when coworkers think you’re a know-it-all and avoid making eye contact with you.
The best way to begin fitting in is to take on a learning mindset. Be curious, ask coworkers about their work, experience, successes, current and past challenges, hopes and ideas, and then listen. Hopefully, your manager has arranged for you to meet with people. If they haven’t, then be proactive and reach out directly. In-person meetings are best when in the early stages of building rapport and trust. It can take longer to get to know people if everyone is remote, but if that’s your only choice, choose it. A client shared recently that her boss was terrific in arranging back to back meetings with people across the company in her first two weeks. We love this, but also know it can feel like drinking from a fire hose. Way too much information taken in, and our brains simply don’t have the ability to absorb and process all of it. This client feared looking incompetent when she had follow-up questions. Actually, the opposite is true. It’s very wise to ask for follow-up meetings, even a month later. It shows that you took the time to gather information from a number of sources, processed what you could, and returned for clarification and additional information. Humans are interesting - we think asking questions will make us look incompetent, yet ask any leader, and they’ll say that they become suspect of employees who don’t ask questions. Become great at asking questions! This is a strong leadership tool to employ most days in most situations.
Scenario 2: You’re wondering how long you’ll walk around feeling lost.
Typical onboarding at large enterprises takes at least a month, but ramping up is more often like 3-6 months. It might be faster in startups, but the lack of structure can be even more disorienting. More often than not, companies don’t fare well in their onboarding experiences, so you suffer. What can you do? Follow our guidance from Scenario 1, but also step up your leadership skills. How can you own your role? Try the following:
Clarify with leadership (your manager, HR, etc.):
What are your goals and your team’s goals? How do they roll up into the company’s overall mission?
Are there quarterly, half-year and/or yearly goals? How are they measured?
How will employees be expected to collaborate to attain goals? Where can you be most helpful?
What resources might you need?
How can you establish your personal growth goals and complete them in tandem with company goals?
Get into some nitty gritty:
Ask co-workers which docs are most important to read to understand your role and what the company is doing.
Ask which people are most important to meet, both inside and outside of the company.
Deep dive with engineering, design, R&D, policy, ops, all other functions. This will raise your level of understanding while building rapport and trust with co-workers.
Go for early quick wins:
Do some easy ‘starter projects’ to get used to how things work and to build trust.
Document your ramping up journey, including what was most helpful and what could have been more helpful, and share with your manager.
Scenario 3: The culture isn't what you thought it would be.
Let’s face it, most people put forward their best selves in interviews. Interviewers are selling the company and position, you’re selling yourself. As much as you try to get a read on a company culture, you often won’t find out what it’s really like until you get past the honeymoon phase. What if how you feel about the new workplace is quite different from your expectations? With our company clients, we highly recommend they encourage them to be honest about their cultures. If they are trying to change the culture, they should state that in interviews, including what they’re aiming for and the actions they’re implementing to get there. Now, if you’re the employee sitting there feeling confused, duped, angry or anxious, try setting up a meeting to discuss it with your manager. In this meeting, provide examples of what you were told vs what you’re experiencing. Ask if your understanding and perception are correct, and if so, how you can be part of a solution. It may feel awkward or scary giving your new manager this feedback, but believe us, everyone benefits from the candor. The key is to not complain only, but to ask how you can be part of the solution.
Scenario 4: Imposter Syndrome.
Similar to the client we mentioned in Scenario 1, Imposter Syndrome is a belief that your successes are a product of fraud or luck rather than skill. You then live in fear of being found out. A useful technique to tackle this is to ask yourself, “What do I know to be true?” Examples you may encounter in your first few months:
“They’re going to think my questions are stupid, and I don’t belong here.” What do you know to be true? “I’m new here. Even though I have years of experience, any new person would have similar questions.”
“I can’t tell my manager I’m overwhelmed and can’t keep up. They’ll think I can’t do my job.” What do you know to be true? “I’m new. I’m still ramping up. I’m still trying to figure out how things get accomplished around here. My manager and I haven’t fully settled into a routine of how to work best together. It shouldn’t surprise me or others that I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
Whichever scenario you’re encountering, remember to be kind and patient to yourself. We’re taught to be kind and patient to others but can sometimes forget to treat ourselves gently. If you’re struggling with a new position, imagine how you’d treat a friend confiding in you with these struggles. One of our favorite Rilke quotes says, “to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” Either you’ll learn to enjoy your new position, or this experience will help you know yourself more deeply. We wish you an exciting journey filled with joy and learning.
Thoughts? Suggestions? We read every reply, and will probably answer and share the top ones with the entire group.