The Strangeness of Office Life to the Beginner - Consideration Given to a Newcomer - How
The day has long since passed when the only opening for a woman whereby she could earn money was that of teaching. The choice of a profession is now so large that the difficulty is to make a wise selection. That important matter settled, the necessary training successfully completed, and a post obtained, the first days of the new life have to be faced.
Let us take the case of a girl who has been educated at one of the high schools, followed by a course of special training for a post in an office. She may know theoretically all about her work, but in practice she is plunged into entirely fresh surroundings, and her future success or failure in the career she has planned out for herself will greatly depend upon how she faces her new responsibilities.
There is a certain amount of secret pride in having at last attained to something that represents good coin of the realm at the end of a week; but this is at first probably overshadowed by a nervous fear that she is making an absolute fool of herself, and that no one will put up with her mistakes for long. For her comfort let it be said at once that most, if not all, of her companions have passed through this stage, and her employer, if he knows anything of human, not to say feminine, nature, understands all about it.
"I always give a girl a full month to get over her nervousness before I come to any decision regarding her qualifications," said one wise principal of an important London firm. "If by the end of that time she has commenced to feel the ropes and knows her way about the work a little, I consider she is worth keeping on, and my experience tells me that the girl who is nervous at first is by no means the stupid girl. One quickly discovers stupidity."
All employers are, unfortunately, not quite so considerate, but most recognise that everyone must be given her chance at the commencement of fresh work.
The previous training, which should enable a girl quickly to take hold of fresh facts and technicalities, and the hundred and one points in business life that can only be learnt by experience, now proves of value, and in a short time nervousness will wear itself out.
Much help, however, may be given by the members of the staff who have already gained their footing. A shake of the hand, with a cheerful greeting, and an assurance that the newcomer will soon feel at her ease, will go far to make the beginning of her office work pleasant.
Even after years of experience some girls have a return of their first nervousness on entering on a position in a very important commercial firm. One such, after mentally bracing herself to enter the imposing office doors, will never forget the welcome she received when the commissionaire (who had evidently been told of her coming, and therefore did not look blank when she gave her name) had conducted her to the ladies' dressing-room, and the senior girl met her with this frank welcome:
Thus one of the senior girls; to be followed later on by the departmental head, to whose work she was allotted:
" Good-morning. Let me start you on your career with us. I understand you will take my letters for me."
Needless to say, nervousness fled, and the desire and ability to give her best service were ensured.
The opposite type of girl must beware of appearing too sure of herself and of being too ready to " run " the office on her own lines. If she takes up such an attitude at first, it will be resented quickly, and she will not find it easy to get on with her companions.
It will usually be found that other members of the staff are very ready to give to the newcomer any information as to the rules, written or unwritten, of the particular office in which she finds herself. The unwritten rules, by the by, are frequently quite as important as those that may be recorded in black and white on the pages of the rule-book, and should be mentally noted.
It is far better to ask a reasonable number of questions at first than make mistakes that may entail some trouble to put right. Even when working directly with principals, it is wiser to ask for the repetition of some instruction than act under a misunderstanding.
Another question that faces the girl in an office, especially in London, is as to how she can best keep herself in health and "fit" condition for work, which is bound to tell on her in time. It is well if a short walk either end of her daily journey is necessary, and the temptation to take a convenient, and, at times, decidedly alluring, 'bus ride should be resisted. Exception may be made with advantage on very wet days, or when unusually tired at the close of the day's work.
A further opportunity for necessary exercise is afforded at lunch-time, although the hour usually allowed feels all too short. A short walk after the meal, even though it may be only possible to take it through uninteresting streets, is better far than taking a book to read the whole time, which also involves sitting in a heated and often badly ventilated tea-shop.
It is surprising the difference a blow in one of the squares or more open spaces of the City will make to the worker who has been sitting closely at her work all the morning, and expects to do the same during the afternoon. But, one word to those unaccustomed to the crowded streets of a city-walk as though you have an object in view, do not stroll aimlessly along. The girl who acts on this hint will seldom find herself exposed to any contretemps which might be unpleasant to recall.
The average girl who is in business because she must contribute to her own support, if not entirely dependent on her earnings, soon finds her level, and, if she will but determine at all costs to carry out her work thoroughly and well, may hope to rise to a good position in course of time.
For the first time in her life, perhaps, she must become a rule unto herself in some matters.
For instance, her weekly salary is under her own control. If help is needed at home, a small sum, at least, has to be set aside for he: board, then there are the daily expenses of going to and fro from the office and a midday meal. These are the obvious outgoings... and the twenty shillings that appeared a quite liberal weekly amount soon melts. In these circumstances, the sooner a quarter of an hour is spent with a paper and pencil, and a " budget" drawn up, the better for her future happiness.
From the very first she should determine to save some amount each week; sixpence is better than nothing at all. If the salary happens to run into odd money, she should put that odd amount aside, so that a guinea represents only twenty shillings for spending purposes, seventeen and sixpence, seventeen shillings, and so on.
Then she must calculate her travelling expenses. If a season ticket has to be bought, she should reckon the proportion due each week, and put it aside for the following quarter, so that " season ticket week " shall have no terrors. When starting it is, of course, of immense assistance if the first quarter's season is paid for in advance by some kind friend, as it usually means a considerable reduction in the charge for travelling.
The next regular expense is for lunches. At the beginning of business life these have the charm of novelty, and the tyro is apt to spend her cash on pretty pastries and sweet cakes. in preference to the more solid qualities of soup, a meat dish, eggs, and hot or cold milk. A cup of tea or coffee or a bun are likewise insufficient for health. With a little care and thought a satisfactory lunch can be obtained at one of the shops owned by the large catering firms for sixpence or eightpence, and if a little fruit with which to finish the meal can be brought from home, or bought at the fruiterer's, it will profitably take the place of fancy pastries and cakes. Remember that undue economy in lunches generally means a doctor's bill, which may far outweigh the amount saved.
These two items can be very fairly estimated, so that it is simple to set aside the necessary amount, with a margin of a shilling or two as the case may be, and resolve to keep to that sum each week.
A Simple Budget
With a small salary of, say, a guinea or less, it is obviously impossible for a girl to pay entirely for her dress if she has to bear all the other charges, especially if the daily travelling costs much. But with a salary of twenty-five shillings a week the money might be apportioned somewhat on the following basis:
Put in the bank
The two shillings for incidentals should pay for stamps, an extra 'bus ride in wet weather (which saves shoe leather and risk of chill and possible illness), and an occasional book, or the morning paper. This last is not the extravagance that it may at first glance appear, as it keeps a girl in touch with what is going on, and in many branches of business life such knowledge is almost essential.
As the salary increases, a more liberal allowance may be made for the separate heads mentioned above. There is the annual holiday to be thought of, fees for any special classes to be attended that may help in future business, a life or sickness insurance to be effected. The earlier this can be arranged for, the smaller will be the yearly premium payable. Full details of the best methods of providing for the future by insurance will be found in other parts of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia. The supreme importance of the matter cannot be over emphasised, especially for women workers.