Backpack to Briefcase: Transitioning into the Working World

Brainstorming at work
Brainstorming at work

It can be hard to navigate life when you are a recent graduate. You just spent the last several years studying your brains out, and now all of a sudden, the stress of handing in essays, prepping for presentations, and studying for exams has just disappeared. Not knowing what the future may bring can make you feel lost and scared. But it’s also an exciting time. You have the whole world ahead of you, and you get to decide how you want to make your mark.

Getting your first “real job” out of school is a feeling like no other. But as young adults, we sometimes are unprepared for the realities that may come with our new “grown-up” jobs. 

And as a result of this, a young person could interpret their working environment as harmful or toxic. Feeling uncomfortable, being less confident, experiencing more stress – these may be new emotions for a recent graduate who’s never experienced this at their part-time job, but now they feel like they’re drowning.

That’s why Professional Life Coach Joanne Shank, MEd, strongly recommends that if a young person feels this way, they should seek advice or guidance from an impartial individual like a mentor or a coach. “It’s not black and white,” Shank says. “You can have a young person who’s having a hard time integrating into the workforce, the boss may have high expectations, and that’s feeling threatening to the individual, and they are seeing it as toxic,” Shank says someone like a mentor or a coach can help you navigate your feelings and unpack where they are coming from. “Is it that they’re feeling unable to answer the bosses’ demands and that’s feeling threatening, or is it a communication issue and the boss may be coming off as threatening, in which case you need to sit down and have a conversation with them.”

When seeking advice, Shank adds that it’s best not to seek help from someone within the company/organization. You may get an unbiased opinion depending on the co-worker’s relationship or experience within the workplace. She says it’s better to find “someone who knows about workplace culture, leadership, and who they have strong communication skills.” This way, you can ensure that you’re getting the advice you need to take the best possible steps to move forward.

In addition to discussing your concerns with a mentor or a coach, Shank suggests that when you go into a new working environment, you give yourself time to assess the culture. “Who are the problem-focused people in your workplace, and who are the people in your workplace who are solution-focused.” Take the time to create relationships with those who are supportive and positive because those are the people that will help you bring a productive and healthy mindset to work every day.

She says you can also aid in the situation by developing an internal locus of control rather than an outer. This means filling your mind with questions like, “what is it that I can do or change,” instead of being influenced by those around you. “Where do you find yourself? The more you identify the areas you can control and what you can do to help yourself, the more empowered you’ll feel.” Shank says these skills are essential for a young individual to learn and develop. For example, learning how to avoid gossipy-type conversations, become more assertive, and feel more confident at work will lead you down a positive path.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to disparage toxic work environments. If your boss, manager, or anyone in your workplace is being abusive in their language, their behaviour, if you’re experiencing harassment, if the job expectations are unreasonable, and anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, then measures need to be taken to bring awareness to the issue at work or perhaps create an exit strategy.

For additional resources to help you determine what your workplace environment looks like, you can check out some of the links below:

For more information about Joanne, you can click below: