Man mulling laptop in casual open-plan well-lit office.

5 things no one tells you about working in an office

14 Aug 2019

Are you just starting your first office job? If so, Hays’ Jane McNeill has some essential advice for navigating the transition.

So, you’ve been offered your first office role, congratulations! Of course, you’ve had other jobs before, but this is very different to your previous part-time gigs undertaken while you were at school or university.

This job marks the first chapter of your professional career, and you’re hoping to learn all you can from it. The only thing is, this is new territory and you aren’t quite sure what to expect.

Perhaps you have images in your mind of smartly dressed people running to and from meetings, talking on headsets or saying things like, “Let’s touch base later”.

While there’s every chance you will encounter some of these office clichés at some point, there are more important day-to-day things you should be aware of, which can help ensure a smooth transition into office life.

1. Use meetings to build your professional brand

Meetings are a prime opportunity to get to know your colleagues. What’s more, meetings can help you establish and build your professional brand and reputation, showcasing your great work as well as your engagement with the organisation.

Therefore, it is important that you follow this advice:

  • Manage your diary and prepare adequately for each meeting
  • If you are required to speak in a meeting or add input in some way, your line manager may want to review your thoughts in advance, so account for this when setting yourself deadlines
  • Be mindful of your body language. Sit up straight, make eye contact with the person speaking and nod or smile to show you are engaged
  • Don’t take your personal phone into meetings and avoid checking your professional phone – even if other people do so
  • Take notes and ask relevant questions where you can

2. You need friends at work

Workplace friendships are important and in many organisations, encouraged. As life expectancies increase, we are likely to spend more of our adult lives at work, and this time needs to be as enjoyable as possible. According to a study by LinkedIn, 46pc of professionals feel that having friends at work is conducive to their overall happiness levels.

So how can you make friends in your new role?

  • Remember people’s names – this is trickier than it sounds when you work in an office with lots of employees. When you are introduced to people, repeat their name back to them as you say hello. Once you get back to your desk, sketch out a seating map and write down who sits where
  • Keep an open mind and talk to everyone in your office, not just those in your department
  • Take advantage of opportunities to socialise, be it at work events, in the kitchen while making your lunch, or in the elevator up to the office. Just a simple, “Hi, how’s your day going?” is enough to get the ball rolling.

3. You will need to work harder to keep active

Globally, it’s estimated that the average working person sits down for around 12 hours a day. This statistic may not have been applicable to you up until now – perhaps you had a part-time job in retail or hospitality that kept you on your feet. Even at college or university you would have walked across campus to get to different classes. In an office environment however, you can end up sitting in the same seat for eight hours or more if you’re not careful.

Sitting down too much is widely proven to have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Therefore, from the commencement of your first office job try to make a conscious effort to keep active at work. Standing up every half hour, using your lunch breaks to go for a walk, joining a nearby gym and using the stairs rather than a lift can help prevent you from slipping into a sedentary office lifestyle.

4. There are unspoken email rules

It’s estimated that each day, the average office worker receives 121 emails and sends out 40. And yet, nobody really teaches you the basic dos and don’ts of sending and receiving professional emails. Here are a few tips.


  • Set your email up with the company’s email signature format and preferred email font
  • Organise folders and rules for each project so you can access information quickly and easily and don’t miss important emails
  • When you reply to emails in a thread, make sure you reply to the most recent message
  • Check for errors in the email such as spelling and grammar, and ensure that you address the right person
  • Check the message for tone and see how it reads out loud. Could a ‘please’ or ‘hope you’re well’ soften up an abrupt-sounding message?
  • Add a professional sign-off such as ‘Many thanks’, ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Best wishes’. Emails with a polite sign-off are thought to have a 36pc better response rate
  • Copy your boss into emails until they say you don’t need to any more.


  • Take too long to reply to peopleAccording to one survey, around 70pc of people expect a response from their colleagues within four hours. However, if the email is marked urgent or is from someone very senior, or both, reply as soon as you can
  • ‘Reply all’ to an email with lots of recipients who don’t need to see your reply. For instance, an email from reception asking if you are attending a work event
  • Copy and paste the same email without changing variable details such as names, job titles, company names and dates
  • Forget to introduce yourself if you haven’t spoken to the recipient before
  • Mark emails as ‘high importance’ when, in reality, they won’t be perceived so by the recipient
  • Forget to attach attachments that you’ve referenced in your email
  • Forward or loop someone into a confidential email trail that they aren’t supposed to see

5. Verbal communication remains essential 

Our CEO Alistair Cox discussed the importance of verbal communication in a recent blog: “After one person has spoken, the other replies in an average of just 200 milliseconds, compared to an email or WhatsApp message that can get swallowed into a black hole, never to be read, let alone replied to.”

While email or instant messaging tools such as Skype are convenient forms of communication, if you need a quick answer or solution or you find yourself going back and forth in an endless email trail, it’s time to pick up the phone or have a face-to-face conversation. If you do decide to pick up the phone, remember:

  • When making a phone call, say who is calling, even if the phone has caller ID – this is just common courtesy
  • When receiving an internal call, answer professionally. Usually it will be a simple, “Hello, [your name] speaking”
  • If receiving an external call, you will need to state the company name: “Hello you’re through to [company name], this is [your name] speaking, how can I help?”

Starting your first office job can be daunting, and no doubt there will be other curve balls thrown at you that I haven’t mentioned. But remember, your boss won’t expect you to know everything, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. And I’m sure, if you remain open-minded, positive and willing to learn as you go, then you will find yourself flourishing in your new role and on the path to ongoing success.

By Jane McNeill

Jane McNeill is the director of Hays Australia.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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