Perhaps the biggest issue about starting a new job is that when you feel you are struggling, it can be really difficult to ask for help. But why are we reluctant to ask for help when we probably (and justifiably) most need it?
First 100 days: information overload
Starting a new job is, in equal measure, exciting and daunting. Exciting, because it is full of possibility and promise, and daunting because, in an instant, you’re plunged into an environment in which even the simplest task involves a massive learning curve. Names, systems, protocols, processes, passwords … and that’s before you even scratch the surface of what you were actually hired to do.
Asking for help – overcoming the mental blockers
When you take on a new professional challenge, there is a sense of pressure to succeed, which comes not only from your own pride and aspirations but also from the weight of expectation from those around you, your friends and family and wider networks who know about your new job. Many of us feel that asking for help is a sign of failure, or at least, that it exposes our shortcomings; a chink in our otherwise shining armour. Sometimes it’s this fear of appearing vulnerable, or of displaying anything less than 100% confidence that can make asking for help feel like a big no-no.
Naturally, being thrown into an entirely new situation can catch you off-guard. It takes a while in a new role to get to grips with the basics – unfamiliarity with new systems and procedures will inevitably throw up fences around achieving even some of the more elementary tasks in the role (even answering the phone in a new office environment can be fraught with complication as you grapple with how the ‘on hold’ system works, or how to transfer calls, not to mention responding to the query itself). In less rational moments, imposter syndrome might very easily creep in, feeding off the validation gained from your (very understandable) inability to perform with 100% efficiency by 9.30am on day one. When your confidence and self-belief are vulnerable, asking for help from others may appear to be a quick route to proving that all those doubts were right all along. As counterproductive as it is, it seems safer, in those moments, to keep quiet and muddle through.
Expectation versus reality also plays its part. Every job has a unique context depending on the company, industry and people. So even if you have done the same job before, it will be different because you are doing it somewhere new where the structures, people, expectations and set-up may be very different. You may start a job positively but quickly feel as though you have bitten off more than you can chew. Or the opposite, it may turn out to be more junior than you had envisaged and not the progression opportunity that you were hoping for. You may lack training for elements of the role and need to get up to speed quickly or find that your main focus is not on your area of interest or expertise. If you are drowning in work or struggling to find your niche, asking for help can feel like a desperate plea that only exacerbates and amplifies your struggle to others.
But probably the most commonplace barrier to asking for help is the sense that one must not be a burden or an impediment. When you join a new team, you’re likely to be surrounded by a hive of industrious colleagues, busying themselves with their full schedules of meetings, projects which are in full flow, and a seemingly efficient (or at the very least, time consuming) volley of work from which they’ve limited time to step away. Even if you’ve joined a company that’s taken care to plan a thorough induction process, complete with a comprehensive schedule of one-to-one meetings with key colleagues, you’re probably acutely aware that none of your new co-workers will have carved out acres of space in their diaries for your ad-hoc requests for help on the go. It’s easy to feel like a constant drain on everyone’s time and so you find yourself reluctantly arriving at the same outcome – keep your head down, work it out for yourself and soldier on.
And yet … every single one of us knows what it is like to be new. It’s frustrating, awkward, humbling and, frankly, at times it feels a little bit pathetic and demeaning. But, most crucially, it’s also normal, understandable and entirely to be expected. In reality, your colleagues won’t mind taking the time to explain, recap or demonstrate something if it helps you become a fully functioning member of the team all the faster. In the end, by not asking for help you’re doing everyone a dis-service. During your probationary period, speed to performance will be a key measure of your success, and although a huge chunk of that responsibility sits with you, there is also a big part of it that rests on the shoulders of your management and your peers. The more they enable and support you, the better equipped you will be to demonstrate your worth, start contributing and relieve the pressure created by the vacancy that you’ve filled. Not to mention the fact that they were all new once too, and probably had the same, or similar, questions when they first started. Consider, too, the fact that you may even inadvertently be raising a question that nobody has ever thought of; if this leads to some form of process improvement, efficiency drive or positive change, you can count that as a significant win all round. Sometimes it’s the freshest eyes that spot the most glaringly obvious of problems.
The right way to ask for help
So, is there a right way to ask for help without looking desperate or like a failure? The answer is a definitive yes. Being proactive and asking for help when you are struggling is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of a mature and responsible adult. Knowing what you don’t know (and admitting to it!) can be as powerful as knowing what you do know. It may also save you considerable time and energy in the long run if you ask for help early on. One of the first (and easiest) steps to take is to speak to those around you. If possible, find another newbie buddy so you can compare notes and support each other. Perhaps there is someone from your induction process who you could meet for lunch or someone in your team who is relatively new and likely to remember quite clearly their own early days. You could also speak to your HR department who are responsible for employee wellbeing. If there is a particular issue, such as a need for specific training, they may be able to resolve this – and confidentially, so that there is no risk to your career or reputation. HR departments are experienced in guiding new people through the recruitment and induction process and will be able to answer many of your queries and concerns – remember, there is little that they haven’t seen before. Make the most of your networks, either personal or professional, to reach out and share your experiences. Perhaps an old boss or colleague could offer some sage advice or reassure you that what you are feeling is totally normal and that it will get better.
Equally importantly, communicate with your line manager. They are responsible for your wellbeing and have a duty of care towards you. Moreover, aside from them being an ethical and principled person who wants to help people in need (hopefully), it is in their professional interests that you succeed: they hired you, so your success, or potential lack of it, reflects on them personally. If there are issues with the recruitment or onboarding process, they need to know about it so that they can address any problems for you and make the process smoother for the next person. Keeping schtum does not help anyone and could be damaging for their career as well as your own.
Build your confidence with FindMyWhy
Here at FindMyWhy, we understand the crisis of confidence that starting a new job can bring, and that overcoming this requires a solid understanding of yourself, your unique strengths and your values. Sometimes we all need a reminder of how great we really are and why we got that job in the first place. We also know that perspective is key, whether it’s seeing yourself from someone else’s point of view or self-reflecting with greater clarity and introspection.
FindMyWhy is a free personal purpose project which offers tailored support and guidance to help you love the life you live, both on a personal and professional basis. Created by our expert team of psychologists, FindMyWhy starts as a simple online psychometric test and produces complementary and bespoke reports detailing your unique strengths and values as an individual, where you excel and where you may need to ask for support, helping you to plan ahead for the potential pitfalls in starting a new job.
FindMyWhy produces deep-dive analysis of you as an individual, your personality and how you are seen by others, helping you to better understand your own motivating factors and the impact you have on those around you. By delving into your inner self, you can learn to reflect and grow from the experience, developing a true sense of ‘self’ and enabling you to cope better with bumps in the road during life’s journey. FindMyWhy will help you to identify what’s important to you, providing a new perspective to influence your career choices and behaviour. Find out more by visiting our website to hear more from those who have tried it and loved it: www.findmywhy.com