Adapting to a new environment

In Hong Kong, over 20,000 graduate from university annually and the majority enter the workforce soon after. Transitioning to a new environment, adapting to new norms and culture, and handling ambiguous boundaries and goals can be frustrating – it has been made especially hard during COVID-19. Around one-third of ‘workplace freshmen’ report feeling anxious, with key concerns about job performance and interpersonal relationships (Taiwan Jobs, 2017). These trends are relevant here in Hong Kong, where 36% of young adults in the workplace experience depressive and/or anxiety symptoms (CUHK, 2018).

The transition period between university and work is important to address, in order to ensure good mental well-being. Our brains and our capacity to regulate emotions continue to develop until we’re about 25 years old. Also, 75% of mental health problems develop before the age of 24 years. This means that young people are particularly vulnerable to stressors during this period. Luckily, intervention is especially effective during the time that our brains are developing, so making sure you and others around you get the right support is incredibly important.

How adaptation and change can impact mental health

The transition to the workforce is a big one. There may be other significant changes that occur alongside it, such as moving to a new area or home, or shifting friendship networks. The COVID-19 pandemic has added some other unique challenges, such as financial concerns, lack of in-person social networks in the workplace, and others. Changes, even positive ones, can cause feelings of stress and uncertainty. Not knowing what to expect can be uncomfortable and will naturally generate some worry. For some, the stress associated with change can feel overwhelming and can impact their mental health. It is important to pay attention to how you’re feeling and reach out for support if you’re struggling.


Learn about the work culture

Learning about your work environment and culture can help you gain a better understanding of your workplace and the people around you. It reduces conflict and miscommunication and facilitates relationships with colleagues. Observing and listening to interactions between coworkers can help you to understand the common practices in the office.


Managing expectations

When adapting to a new role, it is normal to feel lost and question whether you are doing what you have been asked to do, and doubt your capability of performing well in this job.

  • To manage this, print out or write down your job description, and pin it to a place where you can see it. Whenever you are in doubt, take a look at the job description and reflect on whether you have completed your role’s responsibilities. It is also a great way to remind yourself of your goals and set boundaries.


Balance between your values and the work culture

Sometimes the workplace culture may differ from your personal values and beliefs, which can be frustrating. This does not mean you need to completely change to fit in or quit because it violates your values. Find a balance and explore the middle ground that minimises the impact of your work, while still holding on to your beliefs and values.

Give yourself a break

It takes time to adapt to a new environment, especially if you are working from home. Give yourself a break if you are having trouble adjusting to a new culture. However, if you are really struggling in your new workplace, try to discuss this with your line manager or colleagues you trust to see if there are other ways to help you adjust better.

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