Into the murky deep

They say that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

For new workers in industries like healthcare, construction, business management or ministry, I’d say it’s a lot more than dangerous.

It’s also daunting, confusing, intimidating, frustrating and potentially lethal for clients and careers.

See here’s the thing, no one during your years at uni, college, your apprenticeship, whatever, actually teaches you how to navigate workplace politics. When there’s no hard and fast on the best way to do something, or for you to act as a new employee you’re not only at risk of making real mistakes, you can also make false ones.

A basic way demonstration of this concept is the following example:

Today you’re working with Jim who’s asked you to put together an example for a new project. Now you do it the way Tommy showed you yesterday, or the way you learned it whilst studying.

But Jim tells you you’re wrong. Now he teaches you how to do it ‘the proper way’.

What do you do? When it comes your turn to perform, whose method are you going to use? Which method is best practice?

Unfortunately what many young employees find when they wander into the field for the first time, the years of study they’ve so diligently (or not so diligently) pursued have been less of a ‘total preparation for practice’ and more of a ‘let’s teach you to doggy paddle and push you into the deep end, where you can sort yourself out among the swim squad’

What this results in, is not only the creation of conflicting instruction for new players in the work place, but also inner turmoil for new employees as they are forced to confront high level professional decision making surrounding their practice which will ultimately affect their employers, clients and career.

It can strip them of confidence as they now attempt to please all parties, lacking the skills or assertive ability to negotiate their own way of doing things. It impedes the development of new staff and costs companies severely, as employees hesitate to accept autonomy and mix multiple techniques without fully understanding the logic, reasoning or purpose behind them.

They simply haven’t had the exposure or opportunity to learn why.

Whilst employers can do much to protect new employees from these sorts of situations, even reporting that there’s a problem can be a terrifying ordeal.

See when you go to report that you’re having issues with Jim, you discover in the lunch room that Jim is best friends with the boss; Sam. So essentially you’re stuck. If you request a transfer, a change or report issues about Jim as the new employee it doesn’t look great…. especially when Jim has been there for 20 years.

But by not reporting the problems you’re having, you are potentially shooting your own career in the foot, as you now struggle to perform as expected.

So you end up in this spot, where you know enough to know what’s wrong….. but not what’s right. To know things aren’t going well, but also that your options to make things better… will probably make things worse. Where you can break things but not fix them.

It’s not a great spot to be, and it’s a spot I’ve been in for the last 2 weeks. My current supervisor is a bully who has breakfast dates with my support officer, and coffee with our regional manager. I’m not alone in my frustrations as this person has a reputation for making interns’ life hell.

The learning curve from study to employment is steep. Better people than us have failed and it is only by God’s grace that I was able to run into an alternate support officer who ‘just happened to be visiting the region’ and by using the thinly veiled guise of asking for advice, report the situation myself and several others are facing.

If you’re an intern/apprentice/ new grad, I’m praying for you. Stick with it. Be wary. No one ever taught us how to negotiate work place problems like this at school.

If you’re an employer look out for the newbies. Dan Rockwell explains here how to avoid getting caught up in results and being left blind, especially when working with new staff. Because regardless of whether or not you believe you have an emotional/ethical responsibility to take care of them, it’s a lot cheaper to take care of this intern/apprentice, and create a good operator, than it is to see them, and the three people after them buckle under poor instruction resulting in unsatisfactory results for everyone.


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