Attention FAE Customers:
Please be aware that NASBA credits are awarded based on whether the events are webcast or in-person, as well as on the number of CPE credits.
Please check the event registration page to see if NASBA credits are being awarded for the programs you select.

Want to save this page for later?

NextGen Magazine


Employees and Coaches Share Unwritten Workplace Rules for Those Starting Out

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jun 22, 2023

There are many unwritten workplace rules that people wish they knew when starting their careers, and some new workers and the people who train them have shared some of these rules with The Washington Post.

Among them are the following.

● "Dress conservatively until you know what is considered suitable. Regulate your language likewise."—Susan Van Hemel, Fairfax, Va.

This advice means not getting too comfortable in one's attitude or attire, as Cristina Sabia, a new employee of New York-based communications agency MikeWorldWide, did by being too informal when sending emails or speaking during client calls. She learned by observing and seeking advice from more experienced colleagues and by starting to use “positive neutral language” and a “collective tone of voice”—i.e., first person plural rather than singular—with clients.

● "It’s okay to question management … [but] know that people don’t want criticism from day one."—Erin Wilson, Lancaster, England

While wanting to suggest new ways of doing things, workers are well advised to learn the reason for the current approach before offering ideas on improving them. They should also note that prior experience may not apply to the current situation. After a midcareer job change, Kathy Larson of Columbia, Md., said that she “was careful to ask [her] supervisor, ‘In my old job, I would handle [a situation or personnel issue] this way. Is that how it's handled here?’”

● "Build up your professional capital early."—Lauren Milligan, Chicago

"There will be times when staying late or going beyond the job description can pay off well," Lauren Milligan, career advancement coach and founder of ResuMAYDAY, told the Post.

Janet Gannon of Brunswick, Ga., advises her internship-bound students who have completed their original assignment to ask colleagues how they can help, rather than just "watch someone else work."

● I’d rather answer 10 clarification questions up front than [hear] ‘Oh, I wasn’t sure.’”—Kally Lavoie, Gainesville, Fla.

As much as one does not want to appear ignorant, even “dumb” questions are better than wrong guesses, managers told the Post.

● "Provide good news fast and bad news faster."—Tom Wells, Olney, Md.

New hires will often make mistakes, and they need to admit them immediately.

“I don't expect perfection,” Jason O’Toole, a risk manager for an acute psychiatric hospital, told the Post. “I do expect that mistakes will be made. I do expect you to ask questions and to be honest about poor outcomes. You should expect the same honesty from me. I want you to succeed, and it's my job to give you the tools to do so.”

● "Be nice to people at all levels."—Jody Carlson, Fairfax, Va.

Everyone in an organization should be treated with respect, regardless of rank or title. As Washington paralegal Jody Carlson advised summer associates and interns: “Word gets around as to who’s a jerk and who’s nice to work with,” which can determine who is invited back full-time. “Resist getting pulled into office gossip or inside jokes,” added Milligan.

● "Always start as you mean to go on. That means being intentional early on based on the long game."—Kamela Lupino, Minn.

While wanting to make a good impression, workers should also be sure to temper the expectations that they are setting.

“If you’re an introvert, don’t start as if you’re hyper-extroverted when that’s not going to be sustainable. If work/life balance is important to you, don’t work all hours out of the gate and think pulling back later won’t have ramifications,” Kamela Lupino, director for the HR consulting firm Kincentric in Minneapolis, told the Post.