by Dr. Shay L. Butler
For all of you July 1 start-of-the-fiscal-year hires, you are coming up on day 90 of your new job. My mother had a saying, you don’t know a new friend, new love, new colleague, or new boss until you’ve spent 90 days together. I recall my first job out of college and the day that I came home after my first week of work and told my mom about my amazing new boss. I talked about how she was kind, funny, smart, and a champion of women leaders. Mom’s response, “just wait, too soon to tell.” Because my mother’s 23 years in the workplace could not compare to my 23 years on the planet, I dismissed her cautionary reply as yet another example of how she was out of touch with today’s junior executive! Sure enough, I later found that the gregarious talent who I looked up to in the workspace had one human moment after another, and one by one, each of my adjectives was shattered. The first to go was “kindness” when I heard her berate an employee behind their back, making not so “funny” comments about her weight to another manager (there goes that champion of women leaders award). Not only was my boss “smart” in a business sense but she had a “smart” mouth too that could cut you down in record speed using language that would make a Navy Chief blush. Of course, I learned all of this after week one but before day 90.
While I didn’t appreciate my mother’s advice at the time, her counsel was wise. What she was really trying to say was manage your expectations; keep your mouth closed and your eyes open. Her hypothesis: people are incapable of consistently holding a ruse for longer than 90 days; it’s just too tiring. I learned just how taxing it was when I tried it myself on a personal level. It was quite clear by the second month of my marriage that I could no longer maintain the ruse with my husband that I had the slightest interest in mixed martial arts. I fell off my pedestal, the marriage survived, and now I can happily binge-watch Game of Thrones while he sits nearby lost in his version of “elite combat.” The transferrable lesson here being, even if the job is not what you thought it was or the people aren’t who you thought they were, it can still be great.
As you come upon your 90-day mark and realize that you have learned some things about your new employer, conversely, they have realized some things about you. What’s scary is that they may realize some things about you that you haven’t quite realized about you, or at least aren’t ready to admit to yourself. I’ll save that topic for another day but suffice it to say that this might be an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. Right now, let’s focus on what you have learned about them and how you are processing that information, particularly if you are not having a great experience. In large part, how you process your new realities may be oversimplified by these three classifications: you as an optimist, pessimist, or realist. If the glass is half full, you’ve probably already talked yourself out of believing that what you saw is what you saw and into believing what you heard must have been misunderstood. If the glass is half empty, you may have already read nefarious motives far and beyond what was really meant by the events stored within your memory. If you consider yourself a realist, then perhaps you have taken a more balanced approach and landed somewhere between “Nightmare on Elm St.” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This pop culture reference means that you are considering, is the good, good enough for me to settle in or is the bad, bad enough for me to start planning my escape. Before you decide, consider these three things:
- While there are many industries becoming more accustomed to the job-hopping used to describe the behavior of certain younger generations, higher education has not quite caught up with that philosophy. As long as there’s a segment of the search committee who decided around age 25 to get a doctorate and pursue a job for life, your decision to leave your last job after six or 12 months (without legal incident) would be viewed as an affront and completely ill-advised. What if the first 90 didn’t go as planned? The point is, hang on, even if it’s for another year or year and a half. The key is, while you are there, do your job until you start to like it or until you have done it so well, it’s easier to leave it because you are viewed as a real asset to any future employer. Sheryl Sandberg said it best when she wrote, “Don’t leave before you leave.”
- There’s no perfect place and there are no perfect people. I know that we all SAY that we know and understand this, yet the first time someone says or does something inconsiderate, deceptive, or just plain rude in the workplace, we are ready to question our decision to join that institution. I am not saying stay indefinitely and expose yourself to open-ended toxicity with no expiration date. I am saying take a deep breath and survey the landscape in its entirety as opposed to random incidents. Before you make any rash decision, consult a mentor and work through a plan that can help you make it to the eighteen-month or two-year mark. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than exiting after six or twelve months. Who knows, by the end of the first year things may get better and you may even consider staying.
- Lastly, consider taking mom’s advice about managing expectations. A wise televangelist that she enjoyed watching once said, “Expect things from the job that it can give, should give, and is meant to give you, pay.” The job is not meant to be the place that affirms you as a person, forges friendships and prospective relationships. I know that we live in an era where lines between the social and professional are blurred and I am not saying that you won’t find friends or love in the workplace. What I am saying is manage your expectations and don’t seek those things there. At the end of the day, shed any toxicity and build lives outside of work so that your sole happiness is not predicated on your position or paycheck. That’s how you’ll survive until you thrive until day 90 and beyond.