I’m a firm believer that if you micro-manage or clock watch an employee, you’re setting them up to deliver the bare minimum. I’ve had it done to me. I’ve found myself sitting in front of a disgruntled manager, trying to explain why I was 10 minutes late back from lunch. They were not sympathetic to the fact my order at the cafe was lost, or I needed to head to the chemist. Apparently the most important thing in life is that I was back in my cubicle before the small hand met the big hand on the hour.
Don’t even get me started on the place that made me sign out of the office every time I wanted a coffee.
It’s a bullshit piece of some corporate cultures that treat people like robots, or slaves, or at best slave robots. If you’re going to watch someone that closely, they are only going to do the bare minimum hours and likely resent you for it.
Of course this is a very extreme example of aggressions that can force people out of the corporate sphere into the startup world. This can encourage people to seek or forge a path of their own, to find an environment that doesn’t treat casualty like incompetence.
I was once this person, like a prebiotic organism seeking a new form, I crawled out of the corporate soup to grow legs in the world of technology and startups. Now, I’m privileged to have encouraged others to join me in this organic evolution of work. It’s a wonderful thing to see, a new team member, fresh from corporate culture, try to manage the shift from rigour to a relaxed environment.
There are some things that I’ve discovered are exceptionally helpful to ensuring these people thrive rather than survive. Corporate anxiety is real, and it can be minimised if managed properly.
1. Set boundaries around hours
It may seem counter intuitive to the previous statements, but generally speaking, if someone is coming from an office job they are used to set hours. At BlueChilli, we have flexible hours and working environments, this can be confusing and daunting to newbies.
Rather than state “we work between 9-5, with a half hour lunch break”, suggest a starting and finishing window that can assist with the switch in mindset. i.e. “If you’re in between 8-10, I’m happy!”. The same goes for lunch, suggesting when people usually go and grab some food will make someone new feel better about actually heading out.
It’s small, but hours are something that can cause a lot of anxiety to people who are used to having them watched. At some point, they’ll adjust to the reality that 9-5 isn’t a thing in startup land.
2. Check in regularly
Structured chats are likely something that anyone coming from a corporate environment is used to. Even if adding structure around your catch ups isn’t your thing, providing a regular opportunity to check in and clear the air is super important. I’m not talking about work in progress meetings, or stand-ups. I mean regular one-on-one time to ask “are you ok?” and “do you have any questions?”
Remember that both success and failure is more visible across a small business, lean team or startup so offering a safety net can soften the blow.
3. Recommend a mentor
We recognise the power of mentors and advisors for our startup founders at BlueChilli. This is also certainly something that new team members benefit from. If you’re a direct manager of the person, chances are you’re the one who will be mentoring and guiding them through the shift.
This may not actually be the best solution, as you can be too close to recognise certain anxieties, or they may come from an environment where “lines of reporting” is both a common term and a passive aggressive statement. Taking the time to find another person/s in the company to network with can be invaluable.
There are always opportunities to learn, outside of a learning and development program.
4. Encourage getting out and about
Getting social is a huge part of the startup community. There’s always a billion events on every week, so it’s not hard to do some valuable networking. It might sound silly, but getting about and seeing how people interact, talk to each other and even dress can minimise the shock of entering a more relaxed workplace.
They may even not request to order a business card. Or they’ll order 3000, five t-shirts and go to everything. Either way it’s a win/win. Just make sure they know they can totally come in late the morning after!
5. Recognise imposter syndrome
This is something I still have to pull myself up on. Especially as a woman in business, but even more so in startup land where there’s a new idea, investment firm, startup incubator, technology, event or community being “launched” every week.
No. One. Knows. Everything.
It’s true we need to wear way more hats in startup land than perhaps ever before. It’s ok if the hat doesn’t fit quite right at the start. Encouraging people to approach tasks with curiosity, not trepidation is key. I commonly ask myself “If I get this wrong, will anyone die?” No one has died yet.
There’s so much more you can do to support the transition. It’s an anxiety that can take years to shake. It’s still any day now for me, but with a little extra kindness and support, one day both they, and I, won’t shudder when someone comes over asking “do you have a minute?”
About the author