Life Skills for Offices

officeI was listening to a podcast the other day when I took off my headphones and announced to my husband, “I should have been an organizational psychologist.”

The podcast was Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, a business podcast that provides “bite-sized ways of improving your job.”  In this particular episode, the host, Bruce Daisley, was interviewing the amazing Adam Grant about his thoughts on everything from organizational culture to performance reviews to employee motivation. (Grant is an organizational psychologist and as far as I can tell, he has the coolest job on earth.)

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s relationship to their work. Why do people choose the career paths they do? What makes some personality types succeed at certain jobs but not at others? How does an understanding of one’s own values influence one’s leadership style?

Sadly, it’s too late for me to retrain as an organizational psychologist (or any of the other alternative professions I’ve fantasized about.)

Luckily, I’m going to get my own chance to test these waters tomorrow when I start teaching a course at the London School of Economics (LSE) entitled “Life Skills for Offices.” The course is part of my new business as a communications consultant. (More on that another time…)

Most of my work right now involves training people in the higher education sector how to write, speak and lead more effectively. To do this, I draw on my background as both an academic and a journalist.

But I was approached by the LSE to help address a very specific problem. As part of its training, one of the departments at the School will be sending a bunch of Master’s students out into the world to do a nine-month job placement at a company. The catch? None of these people has ever worked before. So they asked me if I would be interested in designing a course that would help prepare people to work in an office.

“Yes, please,” I answered.

If you think about it, this makes a great deal of sense. After all, the very first day you enter a new job, you’re expected to do all sorts of things that you’ve never actually studied. And while some of us might be relatively better or worse at, say, creative problem-solving, it’s not something you are taught directly in university.

This strikes me as precisely the sort of thing we ought to be teaching as we prepare young people for adulthood.

I’m terribly excited. We’re going to be covering a lot of ground in the soft skills space – things like how to prioritise your workload, how to “manage up,” and how to work effectively in a team. And because it’s a workshop, we’ll be doing a lot of exercises, including drawing on my improvisation training.

I’m thinking of giving this course the tag line: “Everything you wanted to know about offices, but were afraid to ask.”

So tell me, because I’d really love your input. What do you know now about working in an office that you wish you’d learned when you first started out?

Please share in the comments section.

Image: Office Boardroom by Jo_Johnston via Pixabay



  • Reply Harold

    October 5, 2018, 6:28 pm

    Hi Delia,

    Came across this on my twitter feed. Sounds like a great and much needed course. Sometimes wish academic departments also did this for their PhD students going on the academic job market.

    One of the best pieces of work advice I ever got (echoing something Buffett once said) is never put anything in work email that you would not want spray painted on the walls of your office building in 10 foot high letters for everyone to read. I sometimes joke that if I bound together all the work emails I wrote but never sent, I’d have another book.

    Also, don’t warm up fish dishes in the office microwave :)

  • Reply Sarah

    October 5, 2018, 8:36 pm

    I wish I’d had a course like this when I finished grad school! My first job was kind of bumpy!!

    Managing up is so key. Inexperienced workers often have the misguided self-preservation tendency to try and hide a problem and find a solution, when it would be far better to let managers know the problem exists and how they are working to solve it (rather than tell if/when the solution fails). No surprises!

    Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

    Boy, I can think of a lot of things I’ve done or seen others do in the last 20 years. Even basic things you’d think people would know, like “don’t clip your nails at your desk” might be wise to include.

    Sounds very valuable and fascinating to put together!

  • Reply Diana

    October 9, 2018, 9:12 am

    I struggled to deal with client expectations, when to admit that you are faking and when to just wing it, basically meeting etiquette and asking for time to respond if you are not sure of the answers. when I was just starting out my boss flipped when I admitted to a client that it would be the first time we were doing something.

  • Reply Anne

    October 29, 2018, 11:52 pm

    Company culture is hard to change but not impossible. Everyone is on good behavior initially, even those seasoned workers. It doesn’t take long for you to find out the real deal and by month 3, it’s pretty clear. I wish I had had a better sense of what I was getting into when I started my new job. The workload was more than I expected, and so were the management expectations. Don’t know if there was any way to have known beforehand, other than I kept hearing people say they didn’t get proper training for their jobs. I should have listened because it turned out to be true. I will do more research about a position next time since I’m leaving the new job after 3 months. Won’t make that mistake again.

  • Reply delialloyd

    October 30, 2018, 6:16 pm

    Sorry to hear that, Anne.Thanks for sharing your experience. I, too, was once overwhelmed when I started a new job and it took me years to figure it out. You are brave to leave quickly-good luck with the hunt!

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