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The ethics of a newcomer at the workplace

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By Pr Isaiah White

When I was a university student, my professor taught me the difference between morals and ethics. He said: “Morals is ‘what is’ and Ethics is ‘what ought to be’.” Morals tell people what to do generally, but ethics guides people how to conduct themselves in particular situations they find themselves in. All organisations specify acceptable behaviour when hiring employees – the moral code of conduct. They even summarize expected conduct in job descriptions or during job interviews. Behaviour guidelines typically address topics such as harassment, dress code and language. Workers who don’t follow such guidelines may receive written and verbal warnings, and ultimately get fired. As a new member at a workplace, the easiest thing to observe is the moral code because management often put it in black and white. You know time to report and time to leave. The dress code, how to address people, where to put what and when…it is that simple. What complicates things for a newcomer is how to ethically relate with the strange personalities about whom you have no clue at all. Despite the guidelines, however, a newcomer may still find it tricky how to behave around certain people.

Humans are law-abiding beings but in our behaviour, there are things we do which are not essentially reflected in the written laws. This is where the idea of ethics (what ought to be done in a given situation) comes in. Here are a few things a newcomer should consider if they are to fit in the new workplace:

First impression

Starting on a new job can be nerve-wracking. You have new tasks to learn and new people to meet. How you behave in your first days influences how others will treat you someday. Most newcomers focus on impressing their supervisors (which is not wrong). However, the image you build in your co-workers’ minds matters. You must behave in such a way that balances how your bosses perceive you and the rest of the team. Do not play an angel and indirectly demonise the rest. You don’t have to make fellow workers feel like their relationship with the bosses is at risk because of you. This will create an attitude and prompt them to fight back. Introduce yourself to others with a smile; don’t have an attitude because you are trying to fit into their world (at the workstation). As you introduce yourself to each other, endavour to remember their names and positions. Knowing about me shows you value me. How you dress also matters – do not dress to kill and neither should you be too casual. Just be fairly formal. During your first days, colleagues are observing two fundamental things: the ‘why’ and the ‘who’. They are viewing and reviewing your professional skills and the difference you have brought on board (why you were hired); they are equally concerned with the kind of person you are in that environment (who you are). A new workplace is an opportunity for you to change and fit in rather than changing the entire community to fit into your world. So it is better you present yourself as a missing part that has come to fill the gap rather than giving an impression that they are all confused and you are the solution.

Time management

Some people will not sleep the night before their first day at work. They tend not to arrive on time, but either do they arrive early or late. Don’t arrive too early or late; simply arrive on time.

Using cellphone

Whether there are rules about mobile phone use or not, you should assume using your cellphone during business hours is grounds for immediate termination of your services (this assumption is not far from reality). And if you are not terminated, still there is a particular impression you have generated. The first days are all about first impressions. Any cellphone interruption may signal a lack of professionalism.

Tasking while in a meeting

While in a meeting, please observe and take notes; don’t be the new employee who doesn’t write anything down. You don’t have to be vocal and comment about everything since everything they are talking about has a history you are not conversant with. Secondly, you know almost nothing about the temperaments and perception levels of the people in the meeting; so, be careful what you say, why and when. Do not risk to be misunderstood; take your time and you will gradually come on board. While at a task as a newcomer, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are; please ask how things are done and slowly infuse the better tricks you know. Ask, ask, ask – they will understand they also had their first days. As a newcomer, you must be serene and angelic to the new world you are in because you need that world to trust you before you go to another world.

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