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Navigating Professionalism at Startups

By March 21, 2017Blog

So, let’s say you’re beginning work in a start up or non-hierarchical company. It can be hard to get used to the shift from the corporate world to a small, hungry startup. There’s usually by nature less structure in small startups, especially in growth phase. But that’s where both the chaos and fun lies. Without a set way of ‘this is how we do things’, there’s more room for innovation and creativity. You can see your ideas implemented in real time.

But as you launch your career by working at a startup, you may find yourself navigating the scene while trying to remain professional. We can see in recent news when valuing performance above culture/professional behaviour can hurt a company (and their reputation as a good place to work). And there are plenty of amazing startups that put effort and time into ensuring they have happy employees.

So, how to navigate the world of startups while maintaining a level of professionalism?

Be mindful of relationships:

In the startup world it can be confusing to understand boundaries at work. If you’re at an office that isn’t hierarchical, you may find yourself in situations where you’re reporting to people who feel more like friends than your boss. But at the end of the day, don’t forget they’re your manager or boss. And don’t let slip anything that could potentially jeopardise your good standing in the office. Same goes for gossiping with coworkers. They may feel like friends but this isn’t the ‘safety’ of your home with close friends. These are people who you collaborate with on projects, innovation and you need to have a healthy working relationship with them.

Be yourself:

Sometimes professionalism can take over, to the point that you’re not acting like yourself. Especially in a work setting where authenticity and original thought are valued, no one wants you stiff and formal for the sake of formality. Acting so professional you’ve lost your sense of self won’t be a happy outcome for anyone. Time management is important, of course. But startups usually embrace a departure from corporate devotion to sitting at your desk for hours at a time. Play a game of pool, take a short walk outside with a coworker to clear your head—be yourself and take care of yourself. You won’t be happy if you can’t be yourself and your managers won’t be happy since an inauthentic, stuck employee isn’t what they value either.

Know your  limits:

Startups can be known for playing as hard as they work, and letting off steam makes sense if you’ve been logging crazy hours. That’s the fun of startups too. You’re all working long hours to build up something exciting that you can believe in. But it also means, know your limits. Don’t try and keep up shot for shot with someone three times your size at a company event just to prove you’re fun. No one is going to be upset that you stay within the limits that make you your happiest and healthiest. If they do, then you’re not in the right spot for you.


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