The greatest challenge faced by people re-entering the work force after an extended absence is not mastering new technologies or learning new skills, but learning the way around their new work environment, according to a recent survey by a leading staffing firm.
OfficeTeam, based in Menlo Park, Calif., asked 464 office workers, "If you were unemployed for more than six months, either voluntarily or involuntarily, what do you think would be your greatest challenge when re-entering the work force?"
Nearly a third of respondents, 32 percent, said their greatest challenge would be "becoming acclimated to a new workplace culture/co-workers." Another 23 percent tagged "learning new technologies/protocols" as their top concern, while 22 percent selected "adapting to a new routine/schedule."
But is this news? Adapting to any new social environment is a challenge, whether work, school or alien planet. Just ask Jake Sully.
In fact, the protagonist of the hit movie Avatar, despite having a questionable mission and committing some noteworthy gaffes, unconsciously managed to implement at least three of the suggestions that OfficeTeam makes for professionals re-entering the workplace:
1. Make the rounds. Get to know the people you'll be working with. Through dumb luck rather than smart planning, Scully got himself introduced to the leadership of the Na'vi. You might settle for inviting your new colleagues to join you for lunch or coffee.
2. Watch and learn. Pay attention to how others act in the workplace. Jake's very survival depended on doing this; no one gave him a manual. Likewise, workplaces tend to operate according to many unwritten rules that can be learned only by observation.
3. Play it cool. Project confidence in everything you do. Even while acknowledging his ignorance in his first meeting with Moat ("I'm an empty cup. Trust me."), Jake displayed confidence in his ability to learn. Not a bad place to start in projecting confidence overall.
Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half International, also of Menlo Park, Calif., suggested that new employees begin checking out the culture of their new workplace early by asking questions about the work environment during the interview and networking actively with current or former employees.
"New hires can make a smoother transition by learning as much as possible about the firm's culture before their first day," he said.