I’ve dealt with a lot of culture shock in my life. I’ve lived in 3 countries outside of the US, and each time, the relocation caused a certain amount of stress, frustration, and more than once, depression. This changed with time, after becoming acclimated, but struck with a forcefulness I wasn’t expecting when I returned to the US permanently. This is what some people call “reverse culture shock.”

Culture shock occurs when we’re feeling apprehensive and/or insecure in a new environment – and that includes work environments. When we’re suddenly confronted with a new life or a new way of doing things, it can either send us down a dark road or transform us into a stronger person. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that this can happen in the workplace too.

Remarkably, I haven’t felt culture shock (workplace or other) since living overseas. Furthermore, it’s been 15+ years since I was a new employee myself, and I’d forgotten how difficult the transition can be. Early on, I felt a sense of loss in mourning my old job, and co-workers. I’ve had to let go of the past in order to adjust to new routines and new politics. Though I knew there would be growing pains, I had a nebulous idea that the change would somehow be less uncomfortable and annoying than it was (is). I admit that my transition hasn’t been an easy one, and there were days that I wondered if I’d made the right decision to say yes to my current job.

It’s easy to mistake awkwardness during a new job adjustment for a belief that we’ve gotten into a bad job situation. I’m determined not to let this get the best of me and ruin what will otherwise be a valuable experience. Furthermore, those of us who risk getting out of our comfort zones are the ones who reap the most rewards.

We never truly grow (or succeed) without some discomfort.

How to survive workplace culture shock? With a little common sense and a lot of emotional intelligence.

Here are my tips:

  1. Be polite and friendly to everyone. Social interactions are crucial to understanding the new workplace. I’m spending 40+ hours a week with these people, so the best thing I can do is make my environment as positive as possible. Besides –if they like me, I’ll have a better likelihood of success – and of staying long-term.
  2. Emulate the culture. Instead of expecting my new co-workers to adapt to my style, I’m adapting to theirs. This means getting up much earlier than I’m used to, structuring my work, and getting comfortable with uncomfortable silences. I’m viewing all of these as challenges to overcome.
  3. Let go of the past. Admittedly, I’m still coming to terms with the attachment I have to my former life. I’ve gone from being a somebody to being much lower on the food chain. I’ve had to shift my values from helping others get jobs to helping my co-workers be better leaders and helping my team manage change. We all reminisce, but lamenting on how the “grass was greener” (even if it’s true) can be the anchor that sinks the ship. Instead, I’m focusing on being optimistic for the future.
  4. Don’t join cliques. We all thought high school was over – not so! Whether they’re called “cliques”, “networking groups”, or just certain people hanging out together at the office, who we choose to align ourselves with will bring opportunities (or not) and will say a lot about our reputations. My game plan is to be neutral to everyone, especially at this early stage.
  5. Don’t take it personally. Difficult as this is for we Myers-Briggs Feelers, we must recognize that it may be our own perceptions that are causing us grief. Most of my new co-workers haven’t been the new kid on the block in a long time, and they’re getting to know me just as much as I’m getting to know them. Thus, I’ve decided not to make mountains out of molehills, and there’s a huge amount of freedom that comes from that.
  6. Manage stress. “Caving in” to new job stress means not having the resilience necessary for long-term success. It’s important to get enough sleep, maintain a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. For me, it’s also been very important to have a support system and people I can “vent” to when needed. One great thing about my new job is that I have a new friend who was on-boarded with me, and we’ve both supported each other through the transition.
  7. Be patient. This is, by far, my most important lesson. In today’s world of instant gratification, patience often takes a back seat, but it’s necessary to achieve a goal. It took me several years to earn the accolades I did in my previous roles, and it will take several months (minimum) to truly adjust to my new surroundings. No one can expect success overnight.

Bottom line: Anticipate. Adjust. Adapt. Accept. And remember the R’s: Results and Relationships. I take comfort in the fact that the more time that passes, the less of a newbie I am!