Avoid looking like a newbie; know the unwritten rules


The first day of a new job, I was determined to not look like a newbie. My boss gave me my work schedule: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Simple enough (or so I thought). The next day I showed up at eight to find the office empty. I wasn’t too worried. I now had plenty of time for that official day two selfie (#Grownish, #Adulting, #MyJobIsBetterThanYours).

When everyone else showed up at eight-thirty, I was beginning to think I hadn’t given myself enough credit. I was obviously more on top of things than I realized.

At five when I headed for the door, my coworkers were still in their cubicles. I immediately started to question: what was wrong with these people? Didn’t they understand the concept of five o’clock? They clearly needed an introduction to Jimmy Buffet and a trip to Margaritaville.

I asked my officemate, “We can leave at five, right?” He responded, “Yeah, sure. See you tomorrow.”

This had to be some weird office ritual used to psych out the new guy (#NotFallingForIt).

I kept on like this for the next couple of days. That’s when my boss called me into her office and asked how everything was going. I told her about my experience and asked if I’d misunderstood the schedule.

She said the head of the company assumed that people who worked later, worked harder. That those people were always chosen for raises and promotions over the guy who showed up before sunrise with donuts and coffee (love that guy).

Ok…so the boss man wasn’t a morning person, note taken. But, if everyone was expected to work 8:30 to 5:30, why didn’t someone just say so?

I phoned a friend that afternoon and told her what my boss had said. After hearing the story, she responded with, “Oh, sure. The unwritten rules. Every place has them.”

Say what? This was an official place of business, not the DaVinci Code. What sort of place makes up a list of rules that no one follows and follows a list that isn’t written down anywhere that matters? This had to be some new-age-inspired workplace practice for the 21st century professional.

After some research (and a few glasses of wine), it turned out she was right. According to career advice from The Muse, “Unwritten rules govern the way things are actually done and define the culture of the organization. They pick up where the employee handbook leaves off.”

More simply, this is where you reverse that whole thing your parents told you about “do what I say, not what I do.” Yeah, it’s the opposite (#ThanksMomAndDad). You should do what they do and sometimes what they say.

It sounds complicated, but all you need to do it sit back and watch. It won’t take long to crack the code. As for me, I was able to sleep in an additional 30 minutes, which isn’t a bad substitute for donuts and coffee.

To avoid looking like a newbie, check out these other unwritten rules:

  1. Time Off

Before you go and buy that two-week cruise to the Bahamas, make sure you understand the expectations around scheduling time off. Can you take it all at one time, or do you need to split it up? Can it be used at holidays? Can it be used at all? Find out by talking to coworkers and observing how they take leave.

  1. Flex Time

The company we all want to work for. The one that promotes flexible work hours and arrangements. Team lunch outings and half days on Friday. Just make sure you understand the limits of their flexibility before you schedule that afternoon haircut or dentist appointment.

  1. Dress

This is one of the easiest things to pick up on. All you have to do is observe how others dress. Is it business professional with suits and ties or more casual with nice slacks and a collared shirt? Does the office observe Casual Friday where everyone rocks jeans and their favorite Loot Crate t-shirt? Whatever it is, just make sure you know.

  1. Open Door

“My door is always open.” It’s that thing you sometimes say to be nice but don’t really mean. Like when your friend stops by unexpectedly and you say, “No big deal. You’re welcome anytime.” They aren’t really welcome anytime, and you may not be either. Before dropping in, check to see if other coworkers are making unscheduled visits to the boss.

  1. Email Response

This one can be tricky. To reply or not to reply, that is the question. Some bosses want to receive a response as confirmation you received their email. Others are annoyed that you took the time to respond at all. Talk with a coworker and observe how others interact with the boss over email.

Have an unwritten rule you want to share? We’d love to hear from you. Share your story in the comment in the box below.


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