On Being The Office Newby

It’s been a couple of years since I was the new person in the office. Last time I was in the same department at least, so I knew more or less what was going on and already had some connection with some of the people I was working with.

Now, I’m brand-spanking new and know nothing. Well, writing is writing, right? And I’m not worried about that part, but there’s the whole office dynamics, protocol, relationships, etc., etc. It’s all a very delicately balanced minefield because people are keeping a sharp eye on you and talking about you all the time to determine how you’re going to fit in, whether or not you can be trusted, whether or not you’re going to be any good at your job – will you be a godsend or a pain-in-the-neck burden?

Fortunately, I’ve kept careful notes over the years whenever we had a new person in the office and compiled a mental list of do’s and don’ts just in case I was ever the new person in the office. If you don’t mind, I’m going to write them out now so I don’t forget them.Also, I would appreciate any additional advice any of you might have.

1. Dress nicely (not like you did at your last job); but don’t go overboard. Have a look at what your coworkers are wearing; ask them where they got their clothes and go out and buy the exact same outfits. Your peers will be flattered and you’ll be sure to fit in.

2. Do act polite and friendly; but don’t be overly familiar until you really get to know the group. So, no touching or fondling; no personal confessions, crying or weeping; no intimate remarks about anyone’s protrubances or lack thereof, no graphic genital references or jokes (Julian!).

3. There will always be one loud-mouthed know-it-all who knows everything better than anyone else; who believes the office would fall apart without him/her; who is vicious about everyone behind their back. Do make a point of asking that person’s advice about everything, constantly. Feeding their ego makes you like the guy at the zoo who feeds the lion – the lion will be a tad more kindly disposed toward you than other humans and you need people feeling kindly toward you when you’re new – especially lion people.

4. Have your own lunch plans. Lunch is really the only good part of the work day and most people are jealously territorial about their lunch hours. Don’t just start tagging along with whoever strikes your fancy or seems to be doing the most fun stuff at lunch. This will result in people having to sneak out early for lunch in order to avoid you. And that’s no fun for anyone.

5. Don’t engage in any carnal relations with anyone at work, either under your desk, in an unlocked car the parking lot at lunchtime, in the shower stalls in the gym, in the supply cupboard on the post-its, on the big boardroom table (with or without the door being locked), in the emergency exit stairwell or even in the hotel across the street. It’s just a bad idea all around. Of course, things happen sometimes, so if you find yourself in such a situation, try not to make too much noise and always clean up after yourself.

6. And speaking of cleaning up after yourself – the same etiquette goes for the communal kitchen. Fill the kettle again after you’ve used it; make fresh coffee if you took the last bit; clean up the microwave after your lunch explodes in it; don’t eat things out of the fridge unless you brought them. (Taking the name tag off a particularly delicous-looking container of soup, doesn’t count as “up-for-grabs”)

7. Gossip is the heart and soul of any office environment, so be sure to keep your ears on the alert for any and all juicy tidbits. But just listen — wide-eyed and with suitable astonishment. Say encouraging things like, “wow” or “really?” or “holy crap”, but don’t add any further comments. You don’t know anything yet which means you’ll have to make stuff up to get some gossipy attention and that could easily backfire when people find out. And they will. The office grapevine is a far more efficient communications medium than Apple, Microsoft or anything on the Internet could ever hope to be.

8. Even though everyone in your office might get in 40 minutes late and leave 40 minutes early and take 2 hours for lunch and spend most of their day hanging around other people’s cubicles chatting, you don’t get to do that. Not until you’ve been there at least 3 months. Everyone will be outraged if you attempt to slack off before then. (NB: Slacking off in any given environment is a fine art in and of itself. Do not attempt it until you’ve made a careful study).

9. Decorate your office as soon as possible after your arrival. People are rabidly curious about the personal life of new employees. Don’t bring photos of your actual family though. Make up a more interesting life for yourself. For instance, if you’re a boring guy with a wife, 2 kids and a house in the suburbs, bring in a couple of photos of some dishy-looking blond guy and hang them on your wall. Print out certificates from fake Swiss institutions of higher learning. Sling a pair of nunchucks on your doorknob; hang a Julian calendar on your wall. People will ask questions and you will smile and say (modestly and mysteriously) “oh, well…you know…” This way no one will ever get bored of you.

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20 responses to “On Being The Office Newby

  1. Hopefully you’ve taken your own advice and invested in a pair of nunchucks…

    Good luck adjusting to your new digs! I’m sure it’ll feel like an old pair of jeans in no time.
    FYI, I still stand behind the occassional off-topic reference to genitals.

  2. It sounds like you have it all down pat. This reminded me that Matt never did tell me who had sex on the stairwell. That company went out of business 10 years ago, so if I tracked Matt down I should be able to get him to tell me now.

  3. “No touching or fondling”? Darn! LOL

    Good advice, though I cannot follow the third item too well. There’s someone at my work who is a bossy know-it-all and while at first I tried to patiently sit there while she yammered on, it can be hard sometimes to take her now that I’ve been here awhile.

    Avoidance as much as possible seems to work most of the time but it can be hard to resist using sarcasm with her.

  4. the lunch point is key. most people initially think i’m a bitch because i turn down all lunch offers. i just love love love hanging by myself and going for a huge walk at lunch time.

  5. Two numbered post in a row…I love you. So, ah, have you actually ever done number 5?

    I find being aloof, yet being charming and funny if forced to speak to anyone has worked for me over the years.

  6. Old Office Newby – You were just lucky that the overall perversity of the group and your otherwise charming demenour combined to mitigate your intial newby faux pas.

    Geewits – I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a case of who DIDN’T do it in the stairwell. At once office I worked I found out during some drunken, after-work affair that at some point in the past pretty much everybody had done it to everybody else in almost every nook and cranny of the building. Colour me shocked!

    Hannah – Oh, you only have to feed the ego until you’ve been there long enough for everyone to get to know you, then you can avoid the lion like the plague that he/she is.

    Bandobras – Yes! Please “bare” in mind that the emphasis is on the “spanking”

    Meanie – I like wandering around on my own at lunch times, too, but once a week it’s nice to blow off some steam over lunch with the gang. Keeps the workplace interesting.

    Cedar – You’re welcome and yes, aloof, charming and funny is a sure-fired recipe for workplace success. Clever you! And no, I’ve never done anything in the #5 list. That just seems like you’re asking for trouble with a capital T. Also, there are many more interesting and comfortable and sexier places to indulge in that sort of thing, I think.

  7. With my first job-not an office, but in the operating room-I was definitely a newby, just out of school. There was a woman there who seemed to run the whole show, very bossy, unpleasant and know it all. After a year she went to work in another area. It was amazing how pleasant it was after she left. Everyone’s mood changed. She came back a few years later but by then she had lost her position of being on top in the pecking order and I was no longer afraid of her. I’m so glad I don’t work there anymore.

  8. Hi XUP – ha ha – I’m wondering about the goings-on that inspired some of these. I’d love to know what writing work you do – are you a journalist?

  9. Jazz – Sorry. Perhaps the list will help you to torment new people that come into your office?

    Missy – Thanks! Yes, the first week went okay. Slow, because it’s summer, but I think it will be good.

    Linda – Oh ya, I know how one person like that can poison an entire group. But you’re right — it’s also up to everyone else to stop being intimidated by these people. Glad you’ve found a better way to spend your days.

    Robin – I’ve worked in a variety of offices over the years, so this was kind of a compilation of all of them mixed with nonsense. I’m a federal public servant and write government stuff.

  10. So I’m an office newby these days and unfortunately I read this post too late because I loudly and publicly offered to spank the local lion recently… I think that violates at least two of your guidelines. Any advice for those of us who have slipped up? Should I switch jobs now?

  11. Oddly, in this office, we usually lunch together. I think if folks invite you you should go, otherwise they’ll be tempted to talk about you. (Really, The Man jokes that we joke a lot.)

    On dress codes are important, odds are if you would were it to your night job as a stripper, you probably shouldn’t wear it to the office.

  12. Thanks for this, XUP! As you know, I’ll be facing this newby business quite soon, and it’s been creating a bit of anxiety. It’s been a while since I was in a formal “office” situation too. Ugh.

  13. Anon – Oh dear! Did the lion hear you? If not, you’re okay. If so, you can try some powerful sucking up for a while. Or you can just keep your head down and see how the wind blows before deciding. Bon chance!

    Nat – You ALL lunch together? That’s cool (ish) How many of you are there? I see lunch time as my little oasis of personal time in the midst of the vast desert of company time. So, I want to spend it only with people I enjoy being with or doing some errands.

    Em – Did they give you a tour of the office? That’s always good to have before you start. Or you can come and visit me here, we’ll have lunch and you can get a bit of a sniff of the general environment. Send me an email if you want and we can set it up.

    Grouchy – Goes without saying! But you know… you can get away with a lot of stuff when you’ve got seniority.

  14. Wow, I had breakfast reading this and I think I threw up in my mouth a little. Now I got to go and brush my teet a bunch of times, eat a bunch of parsley and stop for a case of tic-tacs on the way to work.

  15. Well, #5 is hilarious. It wasn’t so hilarious when I did it, but I wasn’t a newbie and it was a long time ago. I can only just now talk about it but only on your blog. Certainly wouldn’t dirty up my own blog with those kinds of stories. Now you know the secret of Terrible Mishap B.

  16. Cedar – I assume this comment is meant for the next blog? It’s like you can forsee the future!! Eerie…

    Lola – Why you naughty, naughty girl!!