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The anxiety of change: What’s so scary about starting a new job?

There are many reasons why we may hesitate to switch jobs, but there are many ways to deal with the stress

Starting at a new job can cause anxiety and fear.
Starting at a new job can cause anxiety and fear.

What stops us from trying to find a new job when we are not happy with our current one? Beyond the complexities of the labor market and the understandable need to hold on to whatever stability we may have, there are many other reasons that make us think twice before applying for an offer.

Elena Alameda, a psychologist specializing in labor and business matters, explains that “human beings like stability, what is known and familiar. Making a decision that changes our lifestyle and confronts us with something new always causes stress and anxiety, and it makes us feel that we must return to safety. The work that we can do well becomes our comfort zone; this is why it is so difficult for us to decide to change jobs.”

What’s more, not all situations are the same to begin with, explains Rafael San Román, a psychologist specializing in corporate well-being. “Switching jobs when you already have one, making a controlled decision, is not the same as leaving your current job without any alternative and then start looking for another one.”

This kind of situation usually generates mixed feelings. “The normal thing is to feel positive emotions, such as the excitement of starting something new and the hope of reaching satisfactory professional achievements. But negative emotions can also come up, such as the fear of not being good enough for the new position,” says psychologist Bernardo Ruiz.

The first step is applying for a new job, something that seems simple enough, but is already a challenge due to the time and energy that must be devoted to the search and, in some cases, to assessing your possibilities and expectations. If the company is interested in you, then the arduous journey of the selection processes will begin; according to data from LinkedIn, a selection process takes, on average, 60 to 65 business days.

“Some processes are very long, very demanding, with many comings and goings, periods of silence in which we do not know what has happened with our application and more, as well as factors that influence how we experience the whole thing: how much we want that position, how much we need it, our current situation,” says Rafael San Román in reference to this waiting period.

If everything goes well, eventually it will be time to start a new job, which is usually a positive experience. However, that does not mean that adapting to the change will be easy.

The answer to the question of how long it takes a person to adapt to a new job is also relative. According to data provided by Harvard Business Review, 72% of people say they are themselves at work, although it takes them an average of two to three months to show their true self in this environment. Of this group, 60% felt they were being authentic at three months and 22% at nine months.

Adjusting to a new work environment to the point of being able to act naturally is an important process. So much so, that a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies concluded that the greater the employees’ feeling of authenticity is, the greater their job satisfaction, commitment and performance.

Regarding these dynamics, Bernardo Ruiz points out that the most important thing is adapting to “a new work ecosystem.” This includes elements like adapting to the new tasks, colleagues and to the working methods of the new company, among others.

However, if one of the most crucial factors had to be singled out, perhaps it would be being able to adapt to a new social group. “I think the challenges of being part of a new work environment have a lot to do with the way we relate to our colleagues and the way we communicate with them. We must accept that we need an adaptation period in order to learn how the new company works and how things are done; support from colleagues is essential in these cases,” insists Elena Alameda.

Of course, the bosses also have their share of responsibility. “Adaptation is a period of adjustment between the company and the worker. Both have to do their part so that both company and employee feel that their decision to collaborate was the right one,” reflects Rafael San Román.

The psychologist insists that, even though the new employee may start to become familiar with the company over the selection process, when they start their new job they “continue to be vulnerable, because they have to adapt quickly to a new environment that already has many established personal and corporate dynamics, which they must embrace and make part of their lives.”

Taking these challenges into account, Elena Alameda provides some key advice on how to adapt to a new work environment.

  • Don’t rush things. Take some time to adapt and learn all the new things that come with your new position.
  • It is important to save some time for yourself, to do activities that help you unwind and remind yourself that, despite the changes, you are still you.
  • Maintain a healthy routine. Consider waking up, going to sleep and eating at the same time. It’s also important to socialize and reserve some downtime.
  • Get a good night’s rest. Stress is part of the processes of adapting to a new routine, which is why it is important to rest properly at night.
  • Stay curious. The cornerstone of a new job is learning. Try to remain curious and integrate everything you learn to all that you already know.
  • Listen to your emotions, and manage them. When we face changes, our emotions can be upended. For this reason, it is important to accept and manage any emotion that you feel (with techniques like relaxation, conscious breathing, meditation, putting your feelings on paper or talking to someone you trust). At the end of the day, the goal is to expand your comfort zone, become more flexible and keep learning.

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