Overcoming Reality Shock in the Workplace

I have learned that different psychological phases come with starting a new job. Let’s use this scenario: You followed the activities of Company X for years and wished to be part of such a great organization. Finally, an opportunity emerged, and you wasted no time in pursuing it. You got called for an interview, and after going through the necessary stages of selection, you got hired! You are happy, the hiring manager is happy! What happens next?

You arrive at the new work environment on your first day, meet your new coworkers, and assure yourself that this was a great choice—“Everyone is so nice and friendly. I cannot wait to experience all the great things I have learned about this place.”

After a few months of employment, you start noticing some inconsistencies between what you learned during the hiring process and what you are experiencing—“What is going on here? Am I in the right place?” This phase describes an often overlooked feeling called reality shock.

Reality shock refers to the difference between an employee’s expectations before joining an organization and what is currently going on. This shock can affect anyone regardless of the employee’s career stage. It can happen with fresh graduates entering the workforce or with experienced employees transitioning into roles of increased responsibility. During reality shock, the employee may discover that the new position requires more responsibility, mental or physical hardship than what the job description describes. The company’s internal structure may also be too difficult to understand or navigate. As a result, the employee loses enthusiasm, experiences moments of self-doubt and in a severe case, leaves the organization. The good news is that reality shock is a temporary phase!

A new employee might find these tips helpful in overcoming reality shock:

  • Ask clarifying questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take advantage of every time spent with coworkers or managers to clarify those issues you are experiencing.
  • Start a professional journal: Journaling is a helpful way to collect your thoughts. You can write about your job-related experiences and what you might do differently in the future. You may also note your small wins because this can help in boosting your self-confidence.
  • Seek supportive relationships: This could be a mentor, coach, or a trusted person that can help you develop plans of action.

As a hiring manager, how can you mitigate reality shock?

  • Offer realistic job previews during interviews: Discussing what a typical day looks like or sharing information about the positive and negative aspects of the job can help the employee manage their expectations and improve their chances of staying.
  • Be observant and provide support: A new employee tries as much as possible to hide their frustration since they are still fresh. As the supervisor of this employee, conduct regular check-ins, ask questions, allow meaningful venting sessions, and show your support by helping them view the situation objectively.

In conclusion, everyone should be patient with this adjustment process called Reality Shock.

~ This article is also posted on the SHRM Blog.

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