Teaching Office Life

Not a bad thought.

If you’ve spent much time working with recent graduates – people who have just finished university without much work experience – you’ve probably witnessed your share of odd office behaviour.

For instance, the new grad who shows up dressed for a night of clubbing, or the entry level worker who doesn’t realise the CEO in a Fortune 500 company doesn’t want his opinion about their new brand strategy, or the new grad who takes all her calls on speakerphone without noticing the colleagues glaring in her direction.

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about entry-level workers who think they should get a corner office or have their own assistant right off the bat – but in my experience, those are outliers.

Of course, we’ve all been there at the start of our own careers … because we don’t do a very good job of teaching students and recent graduates how to navigate office life. We teach them other things – how to write a research paper or analyse a poem or conduct a lab experiment – but we don’t have many formalised mechanisms for teaching the sort of skills that will have a huge impact on how to succeed in your first few years of work: skills most of us think of as just how to be in an office.

Part of the problem is that the people who could do the teaching work in academia and don’t have much, if any, recent experience of industry

Instead, we just throw young people in and expect them to figure it out … which of course leads to plenty of professional faux pas along the way, some of them only mildly embarrassing but some quite embarrassing indeed.

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about entry-level workers who think they should get a corner office or have their own assistant right off the bat – but in my experience, those are outliers. What’s much more common are young workers who haven’t fully processed that they’re adults now and don’t need to ask for permission to go to lunch, or to leave a meeting to use the bathroom, or who feel awkward calling their older colleagues by their first names, or are afraid of asking questions because they think they’re already supposed to have all the answers.