A letter to my website went viral a couple of years ago when an intern wrote in to say that he and several other interns had been fired after writing a petition demanding that their company relax its dress code. Apparently, they had pushed the dress code issue several times before and had been told it wasn’t changing, and then spent work time putting together a petition to push the issue further. They were shocked when the company decided to end their internships early rather than keep debating what they could wear to work.
But for the most part, new grads mean well, are conscious of being new, and simply need someone to explain workplace norms to them.
And it’s strange that we don’t do this in any organised way! Why don’t we do a better job of teaching university students and recent graduates about how to navigate office life?
At the university level, part of it no doubt is explained by the fact that the people who could do the teaching – professors – work in academia, not industry, and don’t have much, if any, recent first-hand experience in traditional offices. But why then aren’t employers making a concerted effort to help graduates who are new to the workforce understand and acclimate to its ways?
Why, when we have new employee orientations that sometimes last days and cover things like attendance policies in dreary detail, do employers not tackle the things that will most determine whether these new workers struggle or thrive?
I’d like to see employers do more formal training in how an office works. How about - here’s what’s expected of you at meetings, here’s what you can look to your manager to do for you, here are the kinds of input we do and don’t want from people in your role, here’s how to decide if a complaint is worth escalating, here’s the amount of socialising that’s okay, and here’s how to peacefully co-exist in a shared space with your colleagues without inciting violence. Employees and employers alike would benefit.
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