11 Things Your Manager Wishes You Already Knew About the Workplace

As a Newer Employee, Take This Advice Seriously So You Can Succeed at Work

What are the things that your HR manager wishes you already knew about the workplace as a young employee asks an older person a question.
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When you enter the workforce, you’ll find that there are many things you have to learn—and unfortunately, most of them aren't explicitly taught. So most of you have to wing it and stumble around for awhile, and make some mistakes.

While companies could easily fix some of these issues with good onboarding programs, most don't—because they have forgotten what it's like to enter the workforce as a new employee. Here are eleven things your HR staff and manager wish you already knew.

1. Showing Up on Time Is Part of the Job

People sometimes think that a professional exempt job means that you can control your own schedule completely. While there are companies that allow a large level of flexibility around schedules, most companies expect you to come into the office by a specific time. Show up on time, ready to work.

2. You Need All of the Insurance

Health insurance? Unless you have it from another source—like a spouse, you most likely won't find a better deal than your employer's. Short-term disability insurance? You'll want that should anything happen—from car accidents to new babies. And long-term disability?

Nothing is worse for an HR person than having to terminate an employee after a disabling accident when that person has no long-term disability insurance. The disability insurances are cost effective and are literally life-savers should you need them.

3. Your Manager Is Not Your Friend

Some managers may treat you like their friend, but they are not. They have hire/fire authority over you, and they have to tell you what to do and correct you when they are wrong. When you start sharing too much personal information with your boss, it can damage your professional relationship. If your behavior outside of work isn't something you'd want on your resume, don't talk about it at work nor friend your boss on social media.

4. Take Dress Code Suggestions From Your Boss Seriously

“My boss says my wardrobe needs upgrading, but I really like my style.” That statement may result in your career not progressing how you think it should. You may be dressed according to the company dress code, but if your boss pulls you aside and says you need to change some things, you should change those things if you want to succeed.

Bosses often say things like this to people they see who have high potential but are lacking that professional polish. (Now, of course, if your boss says, “you should really wear shorter skirts,” then head straight to HR to report sexual harassment.)

5. Bad Behavior Is Seriously Frowned On

If you've developed your idea of the working world by watching television, you think it's okay to have affairs with everyone you come in contact with, make crude jokes, and play practical jokes on everyone. But, none of that is true. Keep your dating life and your work life separate.

Save your dirty jokes for your friends outside of work. And practical jokes? A little humor is fun, but don't do anything that could potentially injure or embarrass a coworker. Any of these actions can land you in hot water.

6. Everyone Has Grunt Work—But Especially Entry Level People

Everyone has dreams of changing the world, but somebody has to do the tedious follow up with clients, put together information packets for the upcoming trade show, and clean the office kitchen. That person might be you.

If you're new to the workforce, it's likely the most unpleasant tasks will fall on your shoulders. This isn't discrimination and it isn't unfair. It's part of work. Demonstrate your ability to do the boring tasks and your boss will reward you with higher level work.

7. Put Your Phone Down

You may have a nervous twitch anytime your iPhone is more than 3 inches from your hand, but you'll have to learn to deal with it. Yes, you could answer work emails, but most likely you're not. When you're in a meeting, you need to focus your attention on the meeting, not on whatever message is coming in.

Games? Social media sites? Texts from friends? While everyone needs a break now and then, make sure that your breaks are minimal and nonintrusive. You may be able to think clearly while playing Candy Crush during a meeting, but you'll look rude. Put the phone away.

8. HR Wants You to Succeed

Sometimes work can feel like an “us vs them” scenario where the "them" is management and HR. You may feel like people are setting out to destroy you. While there are always some bad managers and some bad HR, in the vast majority of cases what they want the most is for you to wildly succeed. If you're wildly successful, the company will do better, and all employees profit from that.

But, on a personal level, if you are successful in your job, your boss and HR don't have to spend time coaching and correcting. They don't have to take the time to put you on a performance improvement plan (PIP) or fire you. And, that means they don't have to replace you either.  Recruiting and onboarding take a lot of time and cost the company a lot of money. They want you to be happy and successful in your job!

9. HR Will Keep Most Things Confidential—but Not All

If you want to talk about how your mother has cancer, and you're under a lot of stress, HR is not going to put that in the company newsletter. They'll refer you to the employee assistance program and encourage you to consider FMLA if you need to take time off to take care of her. But if you don't want your boss to know, HR won't tell her. 

If you come and complain that your boss is sexually harassing you, HR can't keep that completely confidential. Why? Because HR has to investigate. Even if you say, “Bill pinched my butt, and I just wanted you to know, but I don't want anything done about it,” HR still has to investigate. If HR doesn't, the company is open to liability for Bill's actions.

HR can investigate some harassment claims confidentially, and some can not. If Bill pinched you, HR can't say, “Bill, we are investigating whether at some time and in some place you pinched someone.” If Bill, on the other hand, was watching porn in his cube, HR can just call up IT, and they will look at his records, and they'll take care of it—quickly. Your name won't come up.

10. HR Isn’t the Reason You Got a Lousy Raise

HR might have coordinated the processes.Your manager was advised on how to approach the process, and HR even wrote the guidelines surrounding how money should be allocated, but the actual amount you received? That doesn't come from human resources. First, the amount of money available for raises is determined by the business—usually, finance plays the largest role in this.

Second, your organization has to divide the available money among all employees, which means that no one gets a huge raise. Third, your manager determines an amount appropriate for you based on the budget, your performance, your current salary grade, and how close you are to the midpoint of the salary range. So, if you don't like your raise, complain to your boss.

11. HR Hates Paperwork, Too

HR is constantly pushing paperwork at you but hates it just as much as you do. Some of it is required by the government. (Many businesses have to submit reports about race to the government, for instance.) The sexual harassment seminar you had to take and take a quiz as part of the session? HR does that because it protects the company against lawsuits.

Every year HR will hound you for your open enrollment paperwork. Why? Because if HR doesn't, you'll come crying to HR in January about how you don't have the right health insurance because you ignored the paperwork you received in October. If you do everything as soon as HR asks for it, HR will stop bugging you—and love you forever.

Hopefully, your workday will run smoothly when you understand where your HR manager and manager are coming from. They're here for you. They want you to succeed, but they also want you to just follow the rules. Everyone is better off.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.