One of the many things that college doesn’t prepare you for? The corporate 9-5. Whether you’ve been working part-time waiting to land that first “real” job, or switching fields, or heading back into the workforce, transitioning into the corporate workplace can be incredibly difficult.
I graduated from college and joined the “adult” life about 4 years ago. For 2.5 of those, I worked on some paid part-time passion projects. I was able to set my own hours, take time off whenever I needed, and only really handle the projects that mattered to me. Of course, there are parts of every job that aren’t “fun” and “rewarding” but overall, I miss those days so much, and would love to go back in time and tell my younger self to stay and take advantage of the flexibility.
For better or worse, I ended up moving across the country. My first job in the new stomping grounds was a part-time retail job that I truly hated, and I applied to almost any full-time office job. I thought I was an “adult” who “craved” consistency and predictability – the opposite of retail. But once I got the “dream job” I realized how unprepared I actually was for the corporate way of life.
I just wish someone would have told me this recipe for corporate success:
Prepare for your schedule adjustment
Even if you have always been a morning person, and have worked plenty of double shifts, the standard 8 hour day is LONG. Before starting the job, start your new morning routine – early alarm, coffee, shower, blow dry, breakfast, etc. – to get used to the time restrictions and morning expectations.
Once you start the job, remember that you are allowed and encouraged to take breaks. You can’t make it through a 9 hour day without breaks. Get up, take a lap around the building, grab a snack, chat with a coworker, etc. Of course, you don’t want to abuse this, but the full-time day is exhausting at first. For most people, the last time they had to sit and focus on basically one thing all day was high school! So know your limits and understand that it may take a while to adjust.
Know your HR policies on time off and use when you need it!
Get to know your Human Resources representative and ask questions! I was worried that by asking questions like “what are the specifications or requirements for getting time off?” they would think I was a flake. And if I asked “are mental wellness days considered sick time or vacation time?” they would think that I was abusing the system. And if I asked “exactly how much information do I need to give when I call in sick?” they would think that I was faking it every time I called in. But the truth is, it is far better to know your policies and the company’s expectations up front. And that is exactly what HR is there for!
Don’t get shamed into not using your time off because you don’t have a family or don’t have a good enough reason. Although I have slammed my 9-5 job in several posts, a fair amount of my unhappiness came from not realizing what my boss could or could not do in regards to my time off. When I would request a day off around a holiday (even 4th of July!), she would reply with, “well, X’s daughter is in from out of town, and my grandkids and I always celebrate on that day, so…..” and I would almost always end up feeling guilty and going into the office. But the thing was, I was the first to request and declare that day off, which according to my HR office, meant that I should have been cleared!
Most company’s don’t require you to give a reason for requesting time off. You shouldn’t have to explain why you are going to the doctor’s again this month. You shouldn’t have to justify why you want Friday off, or why you are coming in a few hours late on Monday. Know your rights and stand your ground. You earned that time off, even if you just want to spend the whole day in bed watching Netflix.
Snacks are more important than you might realize
Pack snacks! I cannot stress this enough. One of my hardest transitions into the corporate 9-5 workplace, was not having access to my own kitchen whenever I wanted. Sure, there were plenty of times before when I would spend a day at a client’s office, but the daily grind of the 9-5 is different. I always kept a drawer of snacks – salty, sweet, healthy, and very unhealthy – to give me a bit of a boost when I felt myself dragging. But, of course, I didn’t create that drawer until about 6 months into the job. I wish I had known that on Day 1, I could bring in a bag of goodies for my desk.
Know your boundaries
Identify the difference between being burnt out and actually being unhappy. Sure, there are some days and some weeks where you are sick of your job, but are you truly unhappy? I wish I could give you a formula for this, but unfortunately, it’s just something you have to know for yourself. In the last five minutes of your workday, jot down what you accomplished, and how you feel. This isn’t your to-do list for tomorrow, it’s a mini journal to help you notice patterns. If you feel great after Monday, but feel lousy every Friday, that might just be that you are ready for the weekend. But if you begin to see that you are consistently unhappy, and can verbalize the triggers, then you can either work to change them, or realize that you need to leave.
Organize your closet
This one may seem silly, but it worked miracles for me. After my first week of corporate life, I went through my entire wardrobe and made two piles – one for work acceptable clothing, and one for my days off. I then designated one section of my closet (I even put in a divider of sorts) for all my work clothes. I even hung up things that I would normally fold just so everything was in one spot. Yes, this is efficient for your morning routine, but is also another way to set yourself up for success in the workplace. (To be 100% honest, the hardest part of the transition into the office, was getting my wardrobe ready. Read how I updated my closet from college girl sweats to adult clothes that make me feel confident and ready to take on the office.)
Here are some of my favorite bloggers’ tips for the corporate workday: