An awkward situation arose at the office this week, when our newest employee had the gall to celebrate his birthday on just his third day of employment. Now, we try to be accommodating of employees' different birthdates. Heck, we are small enough that we usually celebrate with a cake and a mildly humorous-but-inoffensive card. But this was really putting us to the test; two days is simply not enough time for us to each come up with our own inane but unique message to scrawl on the birthday card.
And if that wasn't inconsiderate enough, he brought his own cake! His own cake!! The nerve! How are we supposed to make him feel welcomed and appreciated if we can't give him cake? Next thing you know he'll be bringing in pictures of his kids or his wedding or some other aspect of his personal life that we'll have to feign interest in, which should not be expected of us for at least two to three months. There are RULES, here, people! As Red Foreman once said, without rules, we may as well be sitting around in trees, flinging our own crap at each other.
To prevent such savagery, I thought I would clearly establish the proper timeline of behavior for New Guys everywhere, in order to ease their transition toward acceptance. These rules may also apply to New Females, but as future bloggings will no doubt prove, I haven't the faintest idea about the members of that kingdom, so I'm writing what I know.
Week 1: At this point, everyone still believes that you might be cool. The surest way to screw that up is by interacting socially with any of them. You're starting with a clean slate; try not to run your fingernails down it right away. You should spend most of your time at your desk, reading whatever paperwork they've given you and trying to determine the best monitor angle to hide your web surfing from the casual observer. Once that is accomplished, see if you can figure out exactly what it is you were hired to do.
Week 2: Took too long to adjust your monitor, eh? That's OK, you've still got some time. If you don't remember what you were hired for, try instead to figure out what industry you're in, based on what you see around you:
Large machines = Manufacturing (supplies, or possibly textiles)
Sick people = Health care
Very short people = Education or the Circus
Repo men = Dot-com
Week 3: You can begin to venture out of your office for such necessities as coffee and the bathroom. If you encounter a co-worker in your travels, you should greet them with a nod and a casual "Mornin'" (or, if you're feeling daring, "Afternoon"). Should you encounter the same co-worker again, you've left your office once too often. Play with fire and you'll get burned, my friend. Your only hope of escaping with dignity is to fake an asthma attack and rush back to your office for your inhaler. If the person follows you out of "concern," remove your sock and breathe deeply through it. This person is not actually concerned for your welfare; they are just looking for cracks in your facade of coolness. Don't give them anything this early.
Think of these as Special Forces Recon missions: get in, get your man, and get out. See if you can overhear a few important details about your company, such as "Gee, I sure am glad we're manufacturing so many textiles right now!" Be prepared to pull your feet up onto the toilet seat to avoid detection. You're not ready to encounter a co-worker in a room with only one exit.
Week 4: OK, this is the moment you've been preparing for all month: it's time to engage in conversation with your fellow employees. For the first week, we'll stick to the two safe topics: sports and the weather. But don't get too excited and make the classic rookie mistake of using both in one sentence, as in, "It's too bad the local Major League Baseball team was rained out last night, huh?" You've just exhausted all of your conversation options in one shot. Now you'll have to hide out in your office again until football season.
Weeks 5-8: As your conversations progress, you can gradually mix in a little color and small details about yourself, as in the following example:
"I really enjoyed last night's local Major League Baseball game! That starting pitcher can really bring the heat! Speaking of heat, what do you think of this weather we're having? I do not enjoy it!"
Here, by expressing your opinion on the subject, you encourage your dialogue partner to share his own. Most of your co-workers will pick up on this. The truly reluctant or conversationally inept, such as the members of your IT department, may require further drawing out. An excellent technique to employ here is the use of direct questions. To wit:
"I really enjoyed last night's local Major League Baseball game, you know? That starting pitcher can really bring the heat, huh? Speaking of heat, what do you think of this weather we're having, eh? I do not enjoy it, do I?"
This should be sufficient to prompt even the most reluctant conversationalist to act.
Week 9 on: You have progressed as far as you can socially with this group. It's time to seek a transfer, or if necessary, a new job. Good thing you adjusted your monitor back in Week 1, isn't it?
One final note: you may skip ahead one week in your development for each "New Guy" who joins after you, because now you are "the Seasoned Veteran." Other personality types to aspire to are "the Grizzled Veteran," "the Sarcastic Veteran," and "the Grizzled, Sarcastic Veteran." Such a lofty title often takes years of hard work, weather, and baseball games to attain, but as with any job, you must establish your goals early!