Eight Things You Should Know Before Starting An Office Job
The good, the bad, and the bigoted – Erin talks us through her first taste of office life
I wasn’t sure what I expected from office life. Better pay, definitely. More autonomy, maybe. A new challenge, for sure. But never, ever, did I think it would be like this.
One fateful Saturday back in 2019, when a customer returned their smoothie bowl at the vegan café I was working at because it wasn’t Instagrammable enough, I cracked. I handed in my resignation and was gone a week later, saying goodbye to over three years in adulthood-postponing hospitality work.
After a month of terrifying unemployment, I realised I was ready for a career change and landed my absolute dream entry-level role, content writing for a travel company. I never imagined myself in an office environment – in fact, I’d always rejected the idea vehemently. But, after some thought, I became excited. Maybe this new role at this exhilarating, forward-thinking company would be the change I needed.
Months later, I can see that it was. I adore my office job – but the transition was hard. You’re not just taking on the weight of a terrifying new career path, but the weight of our country’s discriminative attitude. It was crushing (and embarrassing) to realise I’d been living in a bubble of plant-based liberal life. Suddenly there were meat-eaters, mansplainers and Tories everywhere. Terrifying. Here are my tips on how to survive the shift.
The Office Politics Are R-E-A-L
I’d heard this phrase slung around a bit by friends who were quicker to make the jump to office life than I was. ‘I can’t handle the office politics,’ they’d complain over a weekend pint as I nodded sympathetically and pretended to know what they meant. But, within a week of starting my new job, I knew exactly what they meant.
Gossip is something you thought you left behind at secondary school, but baby, it’s back. Newsflash: no colleague who compliments you three times a day is genuine. That complimentary colleague wants something from you, maybe an ally, a scapegoat or even just a guarantee of someone to sit with at the next work night out.
After smashing out a great piece of work, or coming up with an exciting idea, there’s a certain kind of colleague who will try to take credit for it. Share openly, but make sure your ideas are heard, not just said or written down.
The best advice? The second a conversation steers into work-centric gossip, get out. As soon as you’re dragged in you’ll be umm-ing and ahh-ing your way out for weeks.
Make Like Spotify and Shuffle
You never would have thought it. For years you’ve dreamed of a comfy, ergonomic swivel chair to greet you in the morning, rather than 10+ hours of running around. You thought when you quit your hospitality job that the knots in your shoulders would subside and the click in your knee might stop. Wrong. It gets worse, and so does your posture.
After a day of sitting still, or at least trying to, you’ll be more tired than any 12-hour shift has ever made you. Although, it’ll probably feel more like lethargy and anything other than Netflix will quickly seem like a chore. You’ll soon be in bed by 11pm every day, but it actually feels quite nice to say a fond farewell to the early hours.
To dodge this, you need to get up and do something at least every half an hour. Make a tea round or take an unnecessary trip to the toilet. Your colleagues will just be thankful to stop the incessant shuffling for a second.
Save It For a Migrain-ey Day
Not everyone who starts an office job experiences headaches, but it is extremely common. For weeks I couldn’t work out what was going on. I’d come home and have to lie in a dark room, or sleep it off. I, of course, Googled my symptoms avidly, as any 21st century hypochondriac would, but to no avail. I decided, like any proper adult, to ignore it, hoping it would go away. Eventually, I did go and get an eye test at a well-known UK opticians, and they told me there was nothing wrong with my eyes, so I should see a doctor. Obviously, like any self-respecting proper adult, I did not go and soon realised the issue myself. Sudden exposure to long screen times can really put a strain on your eyes, and the headaches that accompany this eye-angst can be killer.
Drink lots of water. More than you ever have done. Without wanting to sound like an office starter handbook, take plenty of breaks from your screen. At lunch, avoid scrolling through your phone, and make sure your eyes get a rest every 20 minutes. Within a few days of practicing this, the headaches vanished. Bye-bye.
Opinions are Like Dr Martens, Everyone in Bristol Has Them
Being in a hospitality or retail bubble, you’re generally surrounded by people at a similar stage: young, independent and, more often than not, liberally inclined. But when you enter an office environment, hierarchy is a thing. The team will be bigger and, therefore, the socio-political opinions more widespread. When I hear an opinion that grates against mine, I pretend to be Louis Theroux. Unlike in the pub, there’s no fun in hashing out light-hearted debates; here you’ll just receive a telling off from HR. It’s hard at first to sit back and hear right-wing opinions thrown around. My ‘overheard in the office’ journal is a hit at the pub with friends who often hear similar day-to-day. A few tidbits for you:
“I actually agree with a lot of what Piers Morgan says.”
“Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?”
“My wife makes my packed lunch. Obviously.”
“Vegans only do it for the ‘look’.”
What’s more, if you’re unfortunate enough to have an accent other than a nasal home counties monotone, they’ll get you to say “grass” for sport. If you’re from anywhere above London, you’re considered Northern and will have to endure jokes about gravy, flooding and attempts at a Yorkshire dialect.
What’s with the Light Workload?
A job in hospitality is one of the most volatile there is. One minute you’re twiddling your fingers, trying to look busy by polishing a table for the 50 millionth time or pretending to fix something on the till, and the next minute you’re rammed, there’s 100 million people in the queue, you’ve run out of 80% of the menu and you’ve sweated through your shirt.
Office work isn’t like that. Long gone are the days of panic from lunch rushes or the 5pm work crowd. The workload is steady, and you’ll seriously wonder why you ever spent so long busting your ass for minimum wage when you now get paid more to do less.
You might find it difficult to prioritise at first, rushing to get tasks done because you can’t tell when you might be hit with a sudden influx of work. This rarely happens, so chill. Your bosses have been doing this a long time and they know how much is feasible for you to get done in a day. There’s a first for everything, right?
Weekends Aren’t Just A Myth
You can plan. You know at all times when you’ll be at work and when you won’t. No more waiting for weekly rotas to be published a day in advance of when you need them, or panicked 7:30am texts asking you to cover shifts. Your holiday requests will be honoured, rather than having to endure death stares or eye rolls every time you ask for time off.
You haven’t seen a Saturday in years. You can visit the local markets, join the crowds of party goers in the evening and finally make plans with friends who you’ve joined on the blessed Monday-Friday routine.
Sundays are strange, but magnificent. You won’t have to make the post-work dash to supermarkets before they close at five. You can become someone who eats brunch. The pub is fun on a Sunday. And, because you’ve had two days off work in a row, you will actually feel recuperated and ready to face the week. It’s nothing short of amazing.
You Got Anything Planned for the Weekend?
This is the question on everyone’s lips come Thursday. Sometimes it’ll even come out on a Wednesday if you need some small talk to fill time waiting for a kettle to boil or printer to print.
The nice thing is, though, underneath all my sardonicism, is that it’s kind of nice. You spend five days a week with your desk neighbours and get to know them really well. You care what they’re doing with their weekends, their evenings or their bank holidays. The depth of casual day-to-day chit chat can be surprising, and hopefully you’ll laugh a lot. Sometimes I realise that I know more about my close colleague’s lives than I do my close friends after not seeing them for a week due to, well, work.
I now have colleagues who I class as friends, usually through interests aligning and an after-work drink becoming after-work drinks. Join in with the seemingly banal questions – it’s a simple part of office life that feels utterly pure.
You’ve Got Male
There’s no escaping it. Cisgender men rule this landscape.
If you’re a woman, be at least one male colleague who physically can’t look you in the eye. There’ll be one that only ever refers to women as girls. There’ll be one who excludes you from meetings, or talks over your head about football, assuming you wouldn’t be interested.
Male banter has too long been the excuse of obnoxious men attempting to justify their offensive behaviour. Often, they don’t know they do it, and that’s the scariest thing of all.
When confronted with a joke, or ‘banter’, that isn’t funny, or in a worst-case scenario, offensive – you don’t have to laugh. The best thing you can possibly do when starting an office job is to be yourself, unfalteringly and unapologetically. Laugh at the jokes that are funny – hell, even laugh so loud you snort a little bit – but if they’re not funny, just don’t laugh. Even better, speak up. You’ll be respected far more for showing your strength of self-awareness than just acting as another drone going through the schmoozing motions. Office life does not for a single second mean abandoning your morals.
Have you made the jump into office life? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments.