Work Basics

Work Basics

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  1. Learners will be able to describe basic expectations that most employers have for their employees.
  2. Learners will be able to explain the difference between perceptions and reality in the workplace, and why both matter.

When you start a new job, you should try to make a good first impression in your new workplace. While cultural and workplace expectations of professionalism can vary, in this lesson, we’ll discuss how you can better understand and meet expectations in your new environment.

What are a few expectations that you think every workplace should have? What are a few workplace expectations that you think are unreasonable?

Basic Expectations

Different settings require different behavior. Just like you might behave differently around your friends than you do around your grandma, in the workplace, your actions and attitudes might look a little different than they do in your personal life. While your employer will likely have other expectations for you, here are a few you can expect from the first day.

Show Up On Time

Regardless of your job, it’s important that you make an effort to show up on time each day. For hourly workers, showing up late means you won’t be paid for the time you miss. In some jobs, where shifts are required to be covered at all times, your delay might also mean someone else has to stay late, which can be frustrating to your coworkers and employers.

But being on time is important even if you are paid a salaried rate. Since most jobs expect you to work a set number of hours in a week, they assign tasks that can be completed in that amount of time. If you’re late, especially on a regular basis, it can make it hard to meet deadlines and cause extra stress. In contrast, making an effort to be on time each day shows your employer that you have good time management skills and that you are a reliable employee.

Dress Appropriately for the Job

Every situation requires a different dress code. What you might wear to the gym would probably look different than what you would wear to a fancy wedding. Similarly, a nurse would probably dress differently for work than a cook in a restaurant kitchen. But regardless of your role, you should dress appropriately for the job. If you’re having trouble navigating the dress code for your new position, think about both the clothes you wear and how you wear them.

Certain types of clothing can make it easier and safer to do your job. In a position sorting boxes in a warehouse, you might be required to wear protective footwear, like steel-toed boots, just in case something falls on your feet. A childcare worker should wear clothing that’s easy to clean and move around in so they can best assist young children without worrying about messes. When thinking about what you should wear to work, consider how your duties might affect your clothing choices. If you get stuck, try to match your wardrobe to what others are wearing.

In addition to thinking about what you should wear, you should also be mindful of your hygiene when getting dressed. Make an effort to clean your body daily. Wash daily with soap, brush your teeth before work, and make sure to put on deodorant. Your clothes should be clean as well, without visible stains or overpowering odors.

Imagine you are a member of a landscaping crew. What are a few things you think it would be appropriate to wear? What are a few things you probably shouldn't wear?
A boot, a shirt, and a hat

Minimize Distractions

A new employer will also expect you to be able to minimize the time you spend distracted at work. Watch the video to learn about a few distractions that can be difficult to avoid.

Remember You're at Work

Sometimes, it can be hard to separate who you are in your personal life from who you are at work. Being friendly with your coworkers can make your job more enjoyable, but remember to maintain a professional relationship while you’re at work. This might include:

  • Limiting socializing when it affects your productivity
  • Keeping conversations professional and avoiding topics that aren’t work-appropriate
  • Avoiding behavior that might make other coworkers or customers uncomfortable
You and your friend both get hired to work at the same restaurant. How do you think your relationship at work might look different than your relationship outside of work?
A waiter and a chef

Perceptions vs. Reality

At any job, you'll have to interact with other people. In work relationships, there are complex dynamics that make it hard to know what the intentions of others are. Sometimes, it can feel like others are upset with you or treating you unfairly, when really there is more to the picture. In this activity, we'll talk about how we perceive situations and how our perceptions, whether correct or incorrect, influence our decisions.

Read the scenarios below. Then, answer the questions that follow.

Scenario A: Bob’s daughter is on the basketball team, but she doesn’t get to play much. His daughter works hard and never complains, but Bob believes this is yet another injustice in his life and his daughter is not getting a fair shake. Bob becomes annoyed and irritated. He angrily confronts the coach, embarrassing his daughter.

Scenario B: John’s daughter is on the basketball team, but she doesn’t get to play much. His daughter works hard and never complains. John believes that the coach wants to win and most likely plays the girls that will help him reach that goal. John feels proud of his daughter’s commitment to the team despite not getting to play very much. John offers to help his daughter improve her basketball skills.

In Scenarios A and B, John and Bob responded to similar behavior differently. John chose to see the coach as generally fair, while Bob chose to see the coach as generally unfair. Why do you think they might have responded differently?
Do you think one of them handled it in a way that was more productive than the other?

Often, the way we see new situations depends on our past experiences. In the John and Bob scenarios, we don't have much information on their backgrounds, but we do see how they respond. Both men responded differently based on their assumptions of the coach's intentions. But regardless of the coach's intentions, the reactions of the fathers influence how the daughters feel. The way Bob responded made his daughter feel uncomfortable, while John's response was to help his daughter practice more.

Sometimes, we have to set our prior assumptions aside and seek more information before we react. Read the scenarios below and consider how you could set aside your assumptions to make responsible decisions at work.

Your boss is talking to another employee as you walk into work. You have reason to believe they are talking about you. This makes you feel uncomfortable and upset. What would you do?
At work, you developed a new way to organize the filing system that makes it easier for the office staff to find documents. You think your supervisor is going to take all the credit. What would you do?
You are a nurse. The patient you are working with is ungrateful and rude, is always finding fault in everything you do, and is making your life miserable.

Being Proactive About Our Own Actions

Just like we can sometimes perceive situations differently than they may actually be, others can perceive our behavior differently than we intend. We have to be mindful of our own words and actions, especially when our emotions are high to make sure others don't assume that we have negative intentions.

Four hands
Think about a time when someone misinterpreted your words or actions. What happened? Do you think you could have done anything differently to prevent the misunderstanding? Do you there was anything they could have done differently?
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