Starting a new job

6 key lessons for starting a new job in middle age. First week of an old man learning new tricks.

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It’s never easy starting a new job after redundancy. The first week in a new role is hard, especially when you’re middle aged, recovering from hip surgery and have to face an onslaught of commuters. Of course with Coronavirus flying around, I half expected (hoped?) that my first day would be cancelled. So much for missing the office banter.

Day 1: Starting a new job, clothing conundrums

Week 1 clothing is important to a new joiner
What should a new joiner wear?

The first challenge of starting a new job in middle age is knowing what outfit to wear. Some companies have now gone fully casual, but I chose the ‘open necked casual suit’ look in order to tick all the boxes. Turns out the company was as confused as me. Sitting in reception I saw ties, suits, jeans and jumpers. Interestingly only middle aged people with grey hair were wearing suits and ties so I fitted right in.

I waited in reception until my new boss arrived, fashionably late. Given I last saw him during an interview about three months ago I was pleased he recognised me. My crutch provided an opening topic of conversation, but to be honest I’ve found people quickly get bored of medical stories unless they have a problem themselves. He didn’t.

All my kit had arrived on time and was waiting. In a Christmas day sort of way I unpacked a phone, laptop and monitor (which I rejected as I couldn’t carry it). There were moments of awkwardness as I struggled with sellotape and how to open boxes, and then my mouse speed, as my new boss sat watching over my shoulder as I logged on and went through the new joiners tick list.

Amongst the checklist was the additional Coronavirus reminders. Yes, I do wash my hands, and do try to avoid sneezing over colleagues. I’m good like that.

Luckily most things were “live” so I could start playing, but by 10:30am I was missing my morning snack and episode of Narcos. By 1pm I was almost chewing my arm off as we waited to go to lunch with someone.

As it turned out lunch was a pleasant, if short, affair. I had the “you order first” issue whereby you don’t know whether to go large or light. I went for a sandwich but succumbed to chips. My two colleagues had salad. Guilty fat man on day 1.

Starting a new job needs caffeine and sweets to keep you going
Brain food to keep a new joiner going in week 1

The afternoon then became problematic as with chips and a sandwich inside me, plus a lack of coffee, I desperately needed a nap. Concentration wasn’t at its best. Through the haze of words hitting my brain there were some worries – especially when I was being told how “technical” I was. Had I said that at interview? Surely not. I made a mental note to go home and brush up on being technical. Well do the bluffer’s guide at least.

By 4:30pm my mind was wandering and wondering about getting home. As I remember from school days, the last ten minutes before the teacher lets you out feel like the longest. Same here. Bored of admin and tired of enthusiasm I needed a break.

Eventually I hobbled back to Waterloo, managed to get a seat on the train, and went to sleep. Exhausted. Who said work was fun?

Day 2: New joiner exhaustion

I worked from home on day 2. The exhaustion of getting up and being pleasant to people had worn me out. The missed tea and cake had made me starving, and my other interests like this blog were being neglected due to the commute.

I also had a load of admin to do. I spent much of the day trying to find how to contact the service desk, so I could share my woes of broken links, equipment and lack of knowledge. Most were down to user error, but on day 2 I reckoned that was fair enough and it was nice to have some banter with a bloke in Poland.

The videos I had to watch in order to be indoctrinated into the company culture were like those I’d left behind when made redundant. When I thought about it I wasn’t surprised. With people like me moving from one business to another taking their experience (files, documents and spreadsheets) with them meant that we were all basically regurgitating the same ideas and pretending they were brilliant new insights.

That’s what you get when you become middle aged.

Day 3: High expectations when starting a new job

By day 3 I was beginning to feel a bit guilty.

For a start, people kept telling me how pleased they were to have me on board. My technical skills would be valued. I could change the world. Unfortunately I had an uneasy feeling of a mismatch between the expectation and capability. I upped my homework levels.

I also made the classic mistake of arriving early to the hot desk area. After I settled in to my seat a slightly disgruntled man kept coming up and taking things off the desk and from the drawers. Turns out I was at a luke warm desk, which he used every time he was in London. Cross that one of the fan-base straight away but surely that wasn’t my problem.

I also had the Coronavirus dilemma. While I was redundant and at home I was safe from potential infection. Now I was exposed. Train carriages and stations were obvious risks. However the real dilemma was the handshake. When you’re new, everyone shakes your hand. Now each time they did it I looked down worriedly, expecting to see little virus people making their way to infection heaven. According to one of the graduates I was in the “high risk” categories of being both old and infirm. Brilliant.

The chances of me running away from it were improving though. My recovery from my hip replacement was continuing apace, and following a visit to the physio I could ditch the crutch and walk with a stick.

Day 5: Getting the Friday feeling

Starting a new job brings back the friday feeling
Friday feeling

I’d forgotten that Friday feeling the business world gets about lunchtime. Suddenly people I had arranged to speak to were cancelling calls and disappearing offline due to “clashes”. In other words, to a local pub with a mate.

I’d also forgotten the stresses of trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism at home, as my wife, cleaner and kids came loudly by, and the Amazon delivery man insisted on ringing the bell until I could bear it no longer.

Then there was my first experience of a coronavirus cancellation. A face to face meeting scheduled for next week was changed to a video conference from various locations around the uk. It was deemed too risky to have thirty people in a room together, in a place they had driven to in their cars. Instead we were to travel on crowded trains to small video conferencing rooms which we would squeeze into, picking over the remains of the last people who had squeezed in there. Something didn’t quite feel right about that one to me.

6 key first week lessons for old men in new jobs

So my first week in a new job ended. Things I had learnt from starting a new job in midlife were:

  • No one really cares about who you are in the first week. They just shake your hand, smile and forget they’ve ever met you (or that’s just my personal impact)
  • People think because you’ve got grey hair you know everything immediately. And you’re old.
  • Having a novelty crutch isn’t the conversation starter you think it will be. Most people are too embarrassed to ask in case they offend you in some way, and to others your simply a hindrance in high speed London
  • Taking snacks is the only way to survive the cake withdrawal symptoms
  • Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, otherwise you’ll end up starving, caffeine deprived and pissing on the floor. None of which is good.

So there you have it. Starting a new job after redundancy can be exhausting, mentally tough and physically demanding. Just make sure you make the most of being back in the workplace, as it was what you spent most of your redundant time thinking about. Or were you doing something else?

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