When I was 15 years old, I watched Cameron Crowe’s classic film Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the very first time. The opening, which features a young Jennifer Jason Leigh and a cast of other teens at their after-school jobs, planted a seed of hope within me that someday soon, I too would be working alongside my best buddies while “We Got the Beat” by the Go-Go’s played in the background. Months later, I landed my first job at a shoe store where I was fired within my first month of working. Since then, I have been laid off twice and written more resignation letters than I care to admit.
While having a job can unlock a multitude of benefits (UM, MONEY!), work can also be extremely stressful—rude customers, condescending management. Being an employee is not a walk in the park. If you are new to the ~WORKING WORLD~ congratulations and welcome! You may be anxious about the possibilities that lay before you now that you’re officially an employee. If you’re feeling anxious and need a little guidance, here are some tips to keep your job, and mind, as low-stress as possible.
Be direct and communicative with your management.
I can’t explain how many times I’ve complained to my dad because my boss scheduled me for a shift on a day that I couldn’t work. Contrary to what we would all like to believe, our bosses are not mind readers. If you’re not getting enough hours or if you’re repeatedly being scheduled to work on days that you cannot, it’s important to communicate your thoughts to your management in a way that is professional and concise. Something along the lines of “Hi! Starting next week, I will no longer be able to work Tuesday evenings. Thanks!” is more than enough. You shouldn’t feel like you need to give a reason, either, as long as you’re telling your boss what you want. Asking is the only way to get the results that you want!
Don’t be afraid to say no to your coworkers and boss.
Pressure from management, plus the responsibility of handling money—your own and the customer’s—can make your job feel like the most important part of your life. Because of this, you may have a hard time saying no when a coworker asks you to take their shift, or your boss tells you to come in on your day off. I can remember being SO nervous that my boss would be upset with me if I didn’t come in for a shift that I cancelled plans I’d had for a whole month! Don’t do this! It’s OK to not take a shift because you have plans, and it’s even more OK to not take a shift because you just don’t want to. A simple “no” is more than fine, and, if you are wanting to be courteous, let your boss or coworker know as soon as possible that you’re unable to take the shift.
Don’t feel bad about asking questions; everyone at your work was once a beginner, too.
Looking back, if I would have just asked my coworkers and bosses for help when I needed it, I would have made things easier for the customers, the management, and myself. It may be nerve-racking, but asking questions when you don’t understand something will make your job less stressful in the long run. It prevents you from being six months into a job and having to hold up your coworkers to ask them a question that you could have asked months ago. Asking questions is definitely intimidating, because it’s essentially admitting that you just do not know how to do something. However, keep in mind that you are not SUPPOSED to know everything! The people at your work that you’re asking for help were once asking the same questions, too. If your management or coworkers do get irritated when you ask questions, calmly remind them that you’re still learning and are doing the best that you can. If they continue to be annoyed, don’t hesitate to reevaluate the quality of the atmosphere in your work.
Find out what the labor laws are for your state/province and go over your employee manual.
It may seem self-explanatory, but being aware of your rights as a working young person is crucial. Things like break times, uniform protocol, and termination without cause should all be laid out in your state/province’s labor laws, which are available on your government’s official website. Double-checking your employee manual is also important! Depending on the company you work for, the “probation” period in which you can be fired without notice will differ. The same goes for work dress code! As determined by your employers, piercings, dyed hair, and “revealing” clothing may lead to infractions or termination. It may seem tedious, but part of being an employee is reading the fine print.
It’s OK to quit!
It’s only natural to feel nervous during the first couple of shifts at your new job—you’re still getting to know your coworkers and the best time to take your long-awaited 15 minute break. However, your job is not something that should make you feel anxious, fearful, or unhappy. If you wake up dreading going into work or are counting down the seconds until your shift ends, you may want to consider quitting. Quitting is not a synonym for giving up, but rather the acknowledgement that your happiness is more important than trying to force yourself to be happy at a job that makes you, to put it simply, unhappy. Yes, there will be moments when work is unpleasant and stressful. There will be moments when customers and your management come across as condescending and rude. And there will definitely be moments when you literally want to be ANYWHERE but at work. But keep in mind that your mental health should always be a consideration.
Not everyone has the ability and privilege to quit their job because they’re unhappy. Some people have bills that they have to pay and are financially dependent on their job. In these scenarios, it’s important to put an emphasis on making time for yourself outside of work, while if possible, looking for another source of income.
It turns out that crotchety old men are sometimes right; being a young person with a job can actually teach you important skills and values: learning how to handle money, accepting that the customer is always right—even though they’re almost NEVER right in actuality—there’s something unexplainably special about being 16 and working for your keep. What needs to be remembered then, is the power you have as a working young person. Vow to never sacrifice your happiness to please someone else—not customer, coworker, nor boss.
Whether you are, like the kids at Ridgemont High, working as a server, movie theater usher, or fast-food cashier, one of the best things to keep in mind is that this is just a job. If it’s your first job, it’s almost guaranteed that it will not be your last. So let things go. Take breaks when you are stressed. Say no when you don’t want to work. You don’t need to have a reason, either. Be excited about all of the possibilities that have and will open themselves up to you now that you officially have one foot—no matter how nervously shaking that foot may be—in the door to the working world. ♦