Your first job
As a new graduate in the workplace, it's normal to be unsure of how to manage your new everyday life at work. One of the greatest challenges is that you often must apply your professional skills in brand new ways.
This article was written together with Janne Gleerup, an education and labour researcher at the University of Roskilde.
In your studies, you typically have the opportunity to work with precisely the things you find interesting, and you have access to the latest knowledge. In the workplace, your day is filled with meetings, banter, copying, and co-ordination, all of which take time away from your actual professional work.
Maintain your professionalism at your new job
As you familiarise yourself with your job, your challenge is to see how your professional skills match the requirements and opportunities of that job. The nature of your profession changes constantly in response to the pressures of shifting requirements for how you solve problems. This makes it difficult to keep up your professional knowledge and skills, in practice — but it doesn't become any less important on that account.
A long-term focus on how your professional skills and knowledge permeate your work can be a valuable compass for you. It can help you to navigate a shifting environment, lending some consistency to the way you use and develop your skills. Additionally, this professional compass can support you in proactively contributing to using your own interests and strengths to change the nature of your job.
Expanding and developing your professional knowledge and skills is also crucial to finding meaning in your work. If, for example, you find that bad management, new management systems, or disputes between different fields become a barrier to your ability to perform professional and responsible work, that can damage your shared working environment, and you might lose your motivation and engagement in the tasks you perform.
Create good relationships in your workplace
Your colleagues at your workplace will quickly become part of your new social network. That's why it's a good idea to invest yourself in your colleagues and get the most out of your workday. Your well-being in the workplace is important to your work, so you shouldn't feel afraid to contribute. Running groups, cycling groups, film clubs, and other social communities can help to strengthen the mental working environment in your workplace, so don't be afraid to contribute just because you're new.
On an individual level, you can be aware of:
- What problems or tasks do I really need to solve or perform?
- What level of professionalism does the task require?
- Am I properly equipped for it, and is there a satisfactory framework to support that level of professionalism?
In the workplace, you can be aware of:
- How are your efforts part of a greater distribution of tasks between employees and fields?
- What sets the stage for how work is organised and how skills are divided across fields?
- Throughout the organisation, what kind of framework is there to support learning and co-operation?
- Is the organisation's culture characterised by recognition of and interest in the meaning of professionalism, for the quality of the work performed and for employees' well-being?
Become part of a stimulating learning environment
Good opportunities for development and learning promote motivation, job satisfaction, productivity, and well-being. On the other hand, if you feel that your professional knowledge and skills are wasted or suppressed, this can damage the mental working environment in your workplace and negatively impact individual employees' personal well-being.
This is why it's important for you to be aware of the fact that a workplace is a learning environment, too. In some workplaces, people are aware of this and work actively to create a positive learning environment. For example, they may promote knowledge sharing, partnership opportunities, and transparency; and they may have formal training programmes, mentorship programmes, and visible opportunities for continuing education.
In other workplaces, there is only a limited focus on learning, but that doesn't change the fact that the workplace is still a learning environment, and you should be aware of how to get the most out of it.
Look into both formal and informal elements of the workplace's learning environment. Find out what opportunities you have to benefit from the various offerings. Are there key people who can share their knowledge or open doors for you as a newcomer? Also be conscious of whether or not the workplace's learning environment has an appropriate balance between development requirements and learning opportunities.
Find a balance between influence and responsibility
Most workplaces have different degrees of autonomy and flexibility when it comes to getting things done. Sometimes, you might find that significant responsibilities are delegated to others (and often readily accepted), while their influence on the framework within which the work is to be performed is severely limited. This can end up trapping you between opposing pressures as you accept responsibilities that you can't really own.
Consider your own attitudes in relation to the degree of autonomy that you thrive under — and to the role you expect your managers to take. Talk about it, even. Be aware of the conditions under which you will work when you say yes to new tasks. Is responsibility clearly and reasonably distributed so that you can be engaged as best you can? Remember that the balance of sustainability also applies to ensuring that you still have some energy left in your batteries when your work day is over and you have your own life to live.