Overwhelmed and feeling inadequate in new job
April 9, 2020 12:32 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to handle feeling overwhelmed at a new job when you're overwhelmed with everything going on?

I will start with saying I feel very lucky and am not taking for granted having a job during the pandemic. My boss thought I was going to get furloughed but I haven't just yet, so I'm grateful.

I started my new job one month ago, it was one week into the position that I had to start working remotely. I have been trying to train virtually with team members as much as possible, but everyone is incredibly busy because we work in public assistance. In the mean time I feel like I'm floundering.

I know it's really common to feel overwhelmed in a new job, and I try to remind myself that it took me a good 3-6 months before I started to feel sort of comfortable in my last role.

But I feel even more unsure and overwhelmed with myself, every time I make a mistake or have forgotten "Oh, right, it works this way not that way" I beat myself up. I think my boss is trying to be understanding, but no one expected the virus to hit this hard when I was hired, and I think she wished I was ready to go by week 2. She has told me that she constantly has to remind herself that I won't be up to speed until a few months from now, and she even says it took her a year to learn the program. I was hired knowing that I would need training. However, there are times I can tell she's frustrated with me still not knowing as much as her. I do my best to answer what I can within my wheelhouse or volunteer to help with things I know I can do, take as many notes as I can. I feel inadequate and stupid.

There are days at home where I mentally drift off during work or just filled with dreaded anxiety. I have a cousin in the hospital with COVID and I think about my parents who are miles away. I worry about my mom's safety. I miss my family. I know I have it lucky comparatively. I just don't want to fail at this job. I feel overwhelmed and am not sure what to do. I don't want to confess this to my boss because I can't get a good read from her, and I know she's overworked too. I don't want her thinking I can't do the job, I just feel like I'm learning things at a slug brain pace than I have before. I know she wants me to be up and running asap, and I don't think there'd be as much pressure if it wasn't COVID times. I think I could feel less scared and overwhelmed at the job if it wasn't.

What is the best action here? Can someone remind me how long it may take to get comfortable (or just.... relatively competent) at a new job in circumstances like these? How can I best learn to do my job well while extra overwhelmed? And are there any scripts to say to my boss when she's like "You don't get this yet?" and I want to be like "No, I just learned that last week and I'm still processing how this gigantic system works." (note: I do have a therapist but am not able to see her since starting because the new job is very busy and I need to accrue sick time.)
posted by buttonedup to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I hear you. I also had my first day at my new job less than a month ago and feel worried/ inadequate/ stupid quite a lot of the time. This is such a difficult time to start trying to learn new skills, connect with coworkers and boss, be present while working remotely, all of that. I'm sorry about your cousin and everything you're going through. It's really hard to focus on acquiring knowledge when our brains and hearts are stressed.

And, yes. 3-6 months to learn a new job sounds right, closer to 6 than 3. That's what I keep reminding myself.

I wonder if, the next time your boss says "you don't get this yet?", you could thank her for checking with you, and that you appreciate her confidence in you as you grow in your skills. Ask her how she's doing, too, and maybe she'll open up a bit. Do you have any teammates who could help you get a read on your boss? Today was the first time I talked (via videochat) with teammates who also report to my boss (other than the teammate who is overwhelmed by her little kids) and it really helped me.

Sending much compassion to you. Feel free to memail me if you want to connect over being new at our jobs during this time.
posted by wicked_sassy at 12:49 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Step one is extremely hard and very important.

Stop apologizing. Or do it less.

Your apology will set a tone or reinforce a that you are doing something wrong. Like wicked_sassy says above, thanking people for their trust, patience, understanding, is a good substitute for apologizing.

Next step: documentation.

Make a record of how things work. Make yourself a checklist. Something like this:

Click the button marked ‘applicants’
Enter the last name in the field, enter the address
Load the results
Verify x y and z details
Click the approve box
Click the update box
Click the save box

Because a lot of what you’re learning is stuff that may be cruft from previous systems, or feeding into a report that actually matters somewhere. You generally don’t get to know which is which, so it can be hard to remember to do a thing if you never see the result of it being done or not done.

Second step is schedule a phone appointment with your therapist. So many are moving to telehealth for safety of their patients. You may be able to delay your lunch from noon and start ‘lunch’ at 2 and eat a sandwich while you sit in the car and talk to your therapist. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

Third, sleep and hydrate. It’s very easy to forget these things when we’re feeling rushed or unsafe. Or any big feelings really. I think our brains ignore thirst because it just gets lumped in with those other feelings we can’t fix right now. Set timers for water drinking if you need to.

My last piece of advice is time consuming, and vital. Make a list for every task at work. Each list may involve sub lists (new client intake will involve some of the same steps as returning clients but also some ‘extra’, for example.) Attach a name to every task, and note the frequency. Maybe you see or phone screen clients, maybe you run and analyze reports. Maybe you do both. Note which things happen once a day and which things happen for every client. Put your lists in a binder with a table of contents in the front so you can flip through if you’re a tactile person. Use a file management system on your computer if that’s comfortable for you or allowed. Email the directions to yourself. But definitely have a way you can search for the information. Eventually you won’t need to refer to it anymore AND it will be on hand for the next new hire.

Once you’ve made your lists, make yourself a schedule with check boxes. If you’re in charge of opening the office, include checking the voicemail and turning on the lights, with a note hinting the voicemail passcode and the location of light switches. Print one for every day of the week, marked with the day. Include items that happen once a week on their days. Make a list with checkboxes for every client interaction. If they came in the office and you need to scan an ID, have them sign six things, offer them coffee, tell someone else they have arrived, print out enough so that you can physically check all the boxes as you do them.

Review each day for unchecked boxes.

This is really the last piece of advice: be gentle with yourself. You are doing a good job.
posted by bilabial at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

Just because she wishes you were up to speed by week two doesn't mean she expected it. She can be frustrated without it being directed at you.
The more we stress about screwing up the more likely we are to make mistakes, so take a deep breath, acknowledge that the three to six month learning curve is for optimal situations, document like crazy and be gentle with yourself.
posted by kate4914 at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2020

I don’t really have any advice, but I do want to send a word of encouragement, because I’m in early the exact same situation. (In fact, I actually took today off because I had a panic attack while working yesterday afternoon.) Have faith in yourself - you’ve succeeded before, and they hired you for a reason.

I’ve been trying to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy at work by doing things outside of work that I know I’m good at. Cooking, working out, playing with my kids. They all reinforce my self-esteem (and they’re fun, too). It’s obviously not helping all that much of I’m having panic attacks, but it’s better than nothing, right?
posted by kevinbelt at 1:33 PM on April 9, 2020

Your boss is probably feeling overwhelmed herself right now, and it sounds like she's being not very great as a boss and projecting her overwhelmedness onto you. I mean, she could have invested more time before you were hired in creating training materials and extensive documentation of what you'd need to know, but it sounds like she didn't? And she could have tried to schedule things in a way that would take into account any new hire's learning curve, but it sounds like she didn't.

So I don't have any script for communicating with her, but when communicating with yourself remember that all these things are a manager's responsibility, not a new hire's; make slow but steady progress and don't take her comments to heart. Maybe you can choose to read them as neutral status checks or her processing out loud ("right, buttonedup doesn't know how to do that yet, got it.")

If you're not doing it already keep a log of what you've learned and accomplished every day. It's something you can review to feel better, and also something you might send her a weekly status update from.
posted by trig at 2:22 PM on April 9, 2020

Stop apologizing. Or do it less.

Stop it immediately. I know it'll be hard to hear this, but it's very likely making you come across as high-maintenance and that is the absolute last thing you want anyone to think of you in a job market like this.
posted by blerghamot at 4:16 PM on April 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

You need to give yourself so much grace during this time. I'm not even new at my job and each day is a struggle, but it is slowly getting better. I think that working remotely is a bit of an adjustment anyway and doing it during a pandemic adds yet another layer of difficulty, since we are basically grieving or going through trauma. I can completely empathise about how much more difficult it would be if I was new at my role on top of this. I'm sorry you're going through what you are, please be kind to yourself.

I would use a variation on the ideas suggested above, plus what you want to say:

Her: "You don't get this yet?"
You: "Thank you for checking in. I did learn this last week and I can see how it's a piece of the bigger picture. I'm working hard on pulling everything together and appreciate your patience while I learn everything."
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:30 AM on April 10, 2020

This is a long answer and I hope some of it is useful.

The first thing is to recognize and manage your anxiety. A new job is always a significant stressor, and you are taking on a new job while you and everyone else are struggling with an unprecedented global stressor.

A few years ago I took went from teapot analyst at company A to teapot analyst at company B. I had several year of experience in teapot analysis and was pretty good at it. But for the first few months at company B I still experienced a ton of anxiety and uncertainty as I learned the new systems, new people, new procedures. I would have to remind myself that I was able to do the job and that I knew that because I had done it before. That experience taught me that learning a new job is just stressful and anxiety-producing and that I tend to doubt myself. It's been helpful for me to be able to tell myself "I always feel nervous and think maybe I can't do this when I'm learning a new thing, so I don't need to take it especially seriously this time, because I've learned other things things despite that."

First up:
* Resource yourself. What will help you cope with your anxiety and stress? Meditation, exercise, therapy, support from friends and family, getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy food - make a list of the resources available to you and a plan for utilizing them. Make a plan that works for you and not a productivity guru - your resource plan should not be a thing you wind up beating yourself up over because you ate ice cream one day and didn't do your crunches. If you are good at adopting routines, then by all means make a routine that incorporates good self-care. I suck at adopting new routines, but I know that a 6-minute quickie yoga session will make me feel better. So remembering to do yoga when I feel bad is a win, even if I forget some times.

Other things that have helped me:
* Taking responsibility for my learning in every way that I can and making sure my management /trainer sees me doing it. This means:
** Documenting processes.
*** When someone sits down with me to walk through a process, I ask if the process is documented. If so, I try to get a copy of the document so I can take notes on it - especially where anything has changed since the documentation was drafted, or where the language isn't clear.

*** When it's not documented, I take careful notes and draft a process document and ask the trainer to review it. This way I'm creating a resource for myself to rely on that reduces the follow-up questions I need to ask later, they can see that I'm committed to learning, and I get feedback up-front on anything important I've missed.

*** Similarly, creating checklists and asking a trainer to review them.

** Learning what questions to ask. A lot of people, when they train, train for the default. "Check this database to make sure that customer B is active. Once you've confirmed that customer B is active, do x." And because maybe 80% of the time customer B is active, they don't think to explain what you need to if they're inactive. Trying to catch those gaps in training and ask the questions on the spot is useful for me.

** Knowing how I learn and what I need. When I started my current job the "training" consisted of sitting and watching while another worker walked through the teapot steps. For me it was very uncomfortable and boring. I took careful notes and as soon as I thought I could, I asked to try a teapot while my trainer watched. That went okay, so then I asked if I could work independently on a teapot and send it to them for review. That specific scenario may not be relevant to you - but remember that we're all constantly learning more about how we learn best, and look for ways to use that information to your advantage.
posted by bunderful at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Your boss isn't at 100% and doesn't really seem to have a strategy or plan for training you, or clear expectations about how long things take. She's also not being much of a grown-up right now (people tend to regress in times of stress).

The suggestions above for checklists etc will help demonstrate that you are committed to learning and to doing your job well. This will create some trust with your boss, and hopefully as she trusts you more she'll start to realize that if you're asking a question, you need to ask the question, because you care about doing your job well.

Developing your relationship with your boss also helps with trust. Don't pry into her personal life, but ask about her weekend and her family, remember names and ask follow-up questions later. Take notes if you need to. It really does help if she starts to think of you as a whole person and not just someone she needs to train. It will help you if you know that she can't visit her vulnerable parent in the nursing home - or whatever's going on in her world.

If she says "you don't get this yet" then something like "That's true. I just started training on this system last week and I've been focused familiarizing myself on aspect 1. Should I be more focused on aspect 2?" Another possible response is "I find it usually takes me a month to develop working familiarity with a new system of this complexity and I started on this system last week." If she has legitimate feedback you want to pin it down. If she's just frustrated and anxious ... well, everyone is.

You could also ask her if she prefers that you save up your questions and share them all at a specific time each day, and if there are any other resources for finding the info you need. It's a small thing but it's kind of like giving a toddler 2 choices of what to wear - the choice creates some sense of order in the chaos, and then you have an agreement in place about how you're going to ask the questions you need to ask to get your job done. Which will be harder for her to push back on.

I started to recommend that you draft a high level training plan and share it with your boss for discussion and feedback - to help you both get on the same page about how long it's going to take for you to learn different things, the complexity of your role, etc. I've had some bosses who love this kind of thing, and others who've stonewalled in response because (I guess) they were uncomfortable with me taking control of my development in that way. If that's a thing that you think your boss would be receptive to, it would make her think about how long things really take and what's actually involved in learning the role. It's going to be harder for her to suggest that you should already know something if your training plan says it takes 3 months to get up to speed on that thing.

Nthing - Don't Apologize.
posted by bunderful at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2020

« Older St. Patrick's Day weekend, Europe to U.S. travel:...   |   Sweet potato leaves and other odd edibles Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.