We’ve all been lectured on how to succeed in the workplace: dress to impress, say yes to every opportunity, and work longer and harder than your peers. After all, it’s a cutthroat job market out there and millennials are fighting for whatever jobs we can get our claws on. I don’t disagree with the logic. We should be making a strong effort to work hard and stand out, especially if we want to gain the trust and respect of our superiors.
But it can be easy to get caught up in the high expectations and find ourselves working so much overtime that we begin to neglect priorities in our personal lives. Work can get so demanding that we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. To those starting new jobs, I say this: cultivate realistic, healthy habits right in the beginning to start your career on a path you can happily maintain.
Work hard. As hard as your coworkers.
Know the value of your time, and take note that the more you’re willing to work, the more work that will find itself to you. Although it may seem like working to your limits is the best way to earn the respect of your coworkers, realize that doing this is only setting the bar for yourself exceedingly high. It sounds like a positive thing, but if you start out working late nights and coming in on the weekends, you’ll begin setting expectations that you may not always be able to fulfill.
Minda Zetlin says it all in her article “10 Reasons to Stop Working So Hard,” “…if you work for someone else, getting a lot done will lead to being given more tasks. That can be a good thing, but only if you have the time and energy to do them with excellence.”
Instead of overcompensating, get a feel for the number of hours your coworkers are putting in and follow suit. If your cubicle neighbors are leaving around five each day, try to make a habit to do the same. If they’re working later, work later. Of course, your workload will depend heavily on when you can and can’t leave, but don’t underestimate the control you can have on your workload simply by working realistic hours.
Be honest about your limitations.
Adjusting to the 9 to 5 lifestyle can be a struggle in itself. When work piles up, it can be tempting to throw all of our energy into our jobs and work long hours only to use the evening to recuperate with some Netflix therapy. Don’t fall game to this trap.
Instead, take the time to identify your personal and professional goals, as well as your other roles and responsibilities (as a parent, part-time student, blogger, etc). Pinpoint the items in your life that are necessary for living a balanced, healthy lifestyle, and then make a tangible plan to accommodate all of these elements around your career. This will look different for everyone. This might include a weekly yoga class, book club, or social hour. The important part is to commit to making time for things that keep us balanced, and make realistic goals for fitting these things into our lives.
Ask for help when you need it.
Experienced coworkers aren’t shy about asking for our help when they feel overwhelmed, and we shouldn’t either. Part of working in a professional environment is cultivating supportive relationships with our teammates. This is a two-way street. It’s important that we show our willingness to help whenever we can, and accept extra work with a smile, but it’s also important that we feel comfortable asking for help ourselves.
If we never ask for assistance, even when we feel like we’re drowning, our coworkers will never know we’re struggling. It’s important to cultivate this give and take relationship right from the beginning.
I encourage you to discard what you think you may know about starting your new job on the right foot. Instead of worrying about impressing your coworkers, focus instead on finding a healthy, happy relationship with work. In the end, cultivating healthy habits for ourselves is the best way to lead a productive work life that we can sustain.