Quite frankly, no one prepared me for how much my back would hurt after sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. You’d think someone like me, with muscles the consistency of mashed potatoes and a well-documented penchant for binge-watching, would be used to this amount of stationary time. Alas, all my hunched-over chair training did not adequately equip me for this new challenge.
After my first week on the job (for the record, my internship is not every day; I work thrice per week), I ended up going on a five mile walk along the Freedom Trail solely because every muscle fiber in my body was screaming at me to move, goddamnit! And then I spent pretty much the remainder of the weekend sleeping and eating.
Given the nature of my job, a lack of motion is an unavoidable reality—I read things, I write things, I go to meetings, I drink free coffee. Depending on what you’re doing with yourself this summer, you too might be fighting with the physical demands of a sedentary lifestyle.
This week, I’m tackling ways to overcome the challenges of the nine to five desk job (don’t @ me, those of you with physically strenuous summer occupations; I’m sure you can find a nugget of helpful advice here too).
The easy solution to my problem presented itself with little thought: move. If you can’t take small breaks to move around during the day, make a point to use your muscles before and after work, as well as over your lunch break. Also, a major source of my back pain was my egregious desk posture. Whatever it takes to straighten your spine will be worth it, I promise.
Speaking of things that should be obvious but aren’t: If you use any communal dishes your office might have in the break room and/or kitchen (mugs, forks, bowls, whatever you want to take from the cabinet) wash them as soon as you are done using them and FURTHERMORE dry them AND return them to the cabinet. I’ve seen the condition in which some of y’all leave the Deece’s dish room and residential bathrooms. Cleaning up after yourself, particularly in communal spaces, is a hallmark of adulthood (see an upcoming Quite Frankly for some more specific and helpful cleaning tips). Plus, taking care of your space shows everyone in the office that you’re, like, a real life adult.
Moving beyond the communal kitchen, you’ll notice there are some unique social factors at play in the office environment. Every office boasts a different set of norms, so I’ll try to stick to what I see as common across them.
When it comes to emails, stuffy is better than too casual, especially when you’re starting out. As you build a rapport with the people you email most frequently, you can pepper in some more personality that goes past the passive-aggressive “Per my last email” cold opener. We scrappy youngsters, particularly those of us who aren’t cis men, are particularly susceptible to tone-policing and undue judgement based on how we conduct ourselves. I’m not saying scrub away your identity when you enter the office. But if your personality will be saved forever on the company server, consider keeping it a bit more subdued. What seems like a fun quip to you might strike others as a less-than-professional email.
Here’s another way to avoid policing based on your age: Never give someone the opportunity to say your wardrobe isn’t appropriate. My office, for instance, is casual. I’ve seen people wearing pretty lax clothes, and people who go for more intricate fashion. I don’t wear a suit every day or anything, but I do aim to look put-together. I try to avoid pairing my more worn-down jeans with an equally worn-down shirt. Although I usually come to the office in some form of t-shirt and jeans, both items are always clean and wrinkle-free. Maybe I’m just too sensitive to what people think of me, but I find that putting in the extra effort to project the sense that I am an ADULT who can DO LAUNDRY pays off, even if just for my confidence. If your work environment is formal, this effort is even more important.
To further demonstrate your subtle professionalism, learn people’s names (and their pronouns, too). Greet them by name. I know you’re not a supercomputer, so remembering everyone’s moniker could be difficult. I would recommend starting with your nearest coworkers and the office’s support staff: receptionists, mailroom workers, custodial staff. My office is rather large; there’s no chance I can know the name of everyone I see on a daily basis, but those who eat lunch around the same time as me? An easy place to start.
Here’s another tip that maybe should go without saying, but probably doesn’t. Limit the time you spend looking at your phone, especially when you’re in the midst of a project. Even if you’re just checking the time, turning on your screen can make your focus appear lacking. I’ve noticed that my superiors’ greatest power move is leaving their phones out on the table during meetings, with the screen down. The message: “You can all see that I am not looking at my phone right now.”
Relatedly, I highly recommend you avoid entering the office with your earbuds (or AirPods or whatever other device miraculously blasts noise into your eardrums). I also recommend you avoid them even on your lunch break. Plugging into your devices is a signal to passersby that you are closed off to interaction. That’s fine sometimes, but habitually vibing out can come off like you’re just putting in your time without really caring about the job. Maybe that’s completely accurate to your situation, but you definitely don’t want everyone in the office to know that’s what’s happening.
These tips, you’ll notice, will help you assimilate smoothly into your office’s culture, regardless of its particulars.
Now that you know how to plug into your work environment, you’re ready for next week’s lesson on achieving true work-life balance with some unsolicited tips on apartment dwelling. Get ready for some not-so-subtle digs at my upstairs neighbors.