Dr. El

In my last column, “How to quit like a shrink,” I outlined ways to exit a nursing home that solidify the connections made there and offer the opportunity for healing. Assuming you’re not independently wealthy, what follows after leaving one position is beginning another.

The start of a new job, while exciting and hopeful, also can be very stressful. Perhaps it’s your first position, or maybe you’ve taken on a supervisory role or increased your responsibilities. Even if you’re performing the same types of tasks you’ve completed for years, you’re now in a new setting, adjusting to an unfamiliar work culture with different people and systems.

Here are 12 steps that may make the transition more manageable:

  1. Give it time. I estimate that it takes six months before your new coworkers — who may have seen them come and go many times over — actually believe you’re there. It’s not until you go on vacation and they miss you that they realize you’re a solid part of the team.
  2. Give it time. Relationships with coworkers won’t be established overnight. Be pleasant. Be professional. Be chill. It will happen and it will be better if you don’t try to force it. Join coworkers in the cafeteria if invited but bring a book to read just in case.
  3. Don’t let ’em see you sweat. You’re not imagining it. Everyone IS checking you out to see what kind of person you are and whether or not you’ll be able to do your job. This is a good time to “act as if” you’re unperturbed even when you can’t locate the restroom or there’s a code for the copy machine no one told you about. Freak out at home or with your friends but maintain a calm façade while at the facility. If anyone asks, things are going great.
  4. Ask questions. Even when you’re trying your best to showcase your competence, there will be times when you don’t know the answer. It’s better to ask how particular tasks are accomplished at the facility than to assume that they’re done the same way they were at your last nursing home or how you were taught in school. Reasonable questions showcase competence more than erroneous assumptions.
  5. Be aware of dynamics. If you’re lucky, you’re following in the footsteps of someone truly awful at their work and everyone will be rejoicing at your arrival. More often than not, however, there are mixed feelings about your replacement of a former employee and unspoken interpersonal and departmental dynamics. Maintain the aforementioned calm façade while people adjust to your presence and if problems arise, consult with a wise friend, former colleague or current supervisor.
  6. Get organized. One of the best ways to gain a sense of control over a new situation is to begin putting systems in place. After you’ve discovered what you need to do, taking the time to figure out how to do it most swiftly and successfully will pay off in the long run. Create paper or digital files, post telephone numbers by your desk and/or enter them into your phone and establish order to calm your mind and make your process easier.
  7. Step up your stress reduction. It’s especially important to practice calming techniques during times of change. Whatever you choose — exercise, meditation, healthy eating, prayer — ramping it up will help provide the balance you need to counteract the stress on your system.
  8. Keep it simple. This is not the time to search for your birth parent, try out that 30-ingredient recipe from the weekend newspaper or even to wear a potentially painful new pair of shoes. Stick to the basics. You’ve got enough on your plate.
  9. Take a breather. Taking a few moments during the work day to literally take a few breaths at your desk (or in the stairwell) or to go for a walk during lunch can help restore calm when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  10. Don’t expect perfection. Things are going to get messed up and it will be embarrassing. You’ll “reply all” when you meant to hit “reply” (or vice versa), remember a time-sensitive detail on the way home from work and lock your key inside your office. It’s OK. We’ve all been there. It will get better.
  11. Use humor. Making fun is a great way to connect with new peers and deflect embarrassment over small mistakes, especially when it unites us in our human foibles. Did you just drop your papers all over the floor? A wry smile and an, “I meant to do that,” can ease the moment for everyone.
  12. Give it time. Did I say that already? With turnover the way it is in long-term care, it won’t be long before you’re no longer the new kid on the block. Routines will become, well, routine. You’ll know where to find the hidden stash of copy paper, you’ll have lunch buddies and you’ll learn whom you can trust to tell you what’s really going on behind the scenes.

Starting a new job is never easy. Practicing these suggestions can help you negotiate the transition process with as much equanimity as possible.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.