It can be hard to navigate social interactions with a group of new people, especially with first-impression pressure. Unless you’re among founding staff at a salon’s grand opening, the employees you’ll be joining have already established rapport and may have worked together for a long time. There are likely a few cliques and some interpersonal drama. As a new employee, you’re going in blind. Since it’s unlikely anyone will give you an orientation or hand you an information packet to get you up to speed, this post will tell you how to make it through that stressful first week and find your place in your new team.
If you feel like the new kid at school, that’s because you are. You can try to convince yourself you’re not in high school and that you’re surrounded by other grown adults, but the salon environment isn’t your typical office and it’s likely that more than a few of your coworkers are creative personality types.
Are salons drama-filled workplaces? That depends highly on the management.
In a well-managed salon, drama tends to be minimal, with most of it coming from without (clients) rather than within (coworkers). In a poorly managed—or completely unmanaged—salon, bad behaviors often go unpunished. Creating an environment where employees are permitted to reap the rewards of their bad behavior obviously ensures that those behaviors will continue, but it also virtually guarantees that employees—who otherwise wouldn’t need to seek retribution (thanks to management intervention)—certainly will. Every professional I know has worked in at least one miserable salon, spending their days with their ears open, mouths shut, and neck-hairs on end, monitoring the climate minute-by-minute and hoping everyone would just stay cool.
Thankfully, times have changed since the 90’s and early 2000’s. Now, those salons tend to be the exception rather than the rule, so the odds of you ending up in one of those pre-Glassdoor, pre-Twitter hellscapes aren’t high.
You’ll never experience much drama at all in a salon where everyone respects one another, regardless of management.
Make the first move. Introduce yourself to your coworkers at the first appropriate opportunity. It’s normal to feel anxious and uncomfortable when meeting someone new but if you don’t suck it up and follow through, the entire vibe can get real awkward real fast.
Don’t make it weird. Acknowledge people with a greeting when they make eye contact with you. Say hello and introduce yourself if it seems like an appropriate time to do so.
Observe and ask questions. Does the owner prefer for colorists to work with small batches? How is backbar inventory tracked? What washer and dryer settings do you use for towels and linens? Do you immediately dispose of trash bags containing chemicals or wait until the can is full? Where are the garbage can liners and paper towels kept?
Pay attention, newbie. Watching what others are doing when you’re not busy will provide answers to questions you haven’t thought to ask.
Should you have a question, seek answers rather than making assumptions. You may not think twice about tossing the cardboard packaging around a tube of color but if your salon owner uses box tops to replenish backbar, you’ve just messed up her system and compromised the salon’s inventory balance.
Don’t say too much. During your first week or so, listen more than you speak. Get to know more about the people you’re working with. Let them tell you and show you who they are so you know what to expect from them and how to interact with them.
I’ve found that it’s easier to create and maintain relationships with others when you’ve spent enough time learning who they are before showing them too much about who you are. As a rule, I tend to share only necessary information about myself—keeping my opinions to myself and my private life as private as possible. In an effort to establish a connection and bond quickly with coworkers, some professionals make the mistake of oversharing. At best, this is a high-risk strategy. While a well-timed, well-targeted overshare might be just the thing to break a barrier and make a friend or two, you’re far more likely to embarrass yourself. Instead, play it safe.
When you do speak, be sure to think carefully first to keep from being misunderstood—especially if you’re feeling anxious. You’re not being timed or graded. You don’t have to have an immediate answer or response to everything. It’s okay to consider for a few seconds. You could also say, “I’m not really sure what to say about that,” or “I’m going to have to think about how to respond first.”
Nothing annoys me more than when I impulsively say the right thing the wrong way and have to backtrack to explain what I originally meant.
As a writer I may be more conscientious of this than other people, but I think we can all agree that the words we use and the order we use them in matters. It’s worth it to take the time to consider the messages we’re sending, especially during the early days of a new job when your coworkers don’t know enough about you to instinctively know what you mean when you do misspeak. Clear communication is critical (at least for now).
Don’t participate in or react to gossip. Remember when I said “it’s unlikely anyone will give you an orientation?” Notice that I didn’t use the word “impossible.”
One or more of your new coworkers may take it upon themselves to catch you up on the salon’s drama.
You should tell this coworker you’d rather not hear about it, but for most people that can be really difficult to do on the first day or week at a new salon. If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to tell that gossipy coworker, “Thanks, but no thanks,” remember the following:
- Their version of events may be biased and/or entirely uninformed,
- The coworker you’re talking to is for sure one of the—if not the—problematic employee in the salon. You should probably consider distancing yourself from them ASAP. (Come at me in the comments, haters. I stand by it.)
- Body language is still language.
Your reaction is an opinion.
You might not speak a single word but your raised eyebrows, smirks, and eyerolls communicate a lot. If you’re going to listen, prepare to do so as a blank slate or risk having your facial expressions creatively interpreted by a coworker who—for some reason—felt it appropriate, acceptable, and somehow helpful to dump a bunch of sordid backstory on a new employee.
Don’t bring offensive foods for lunch. I’m not sure why people still need to be told this but nobody wants to spend 1-2 days smelling the stink of your microwaved salmon. If your meal comes with a stench, eat it at home.
Focus on work and be a team player. Build goodwill by doing your job. When you’re not working on a client, look for opportunities to help your coworkers. Sweep hair you didn’t cut, pick up damp towels you didn’t use, wash color bowls you didn’t dirty, set up a treatment room for a service you won’t perform.
Teamwork constitutes a big part of a salon professional’s job.
Be yourself. I saved what arguably constitutes the most critical tip for last. Some professionals feel pressured (or just tempted) to behave unnaturally when they start a new job. Maybe they want to seem more laid back than they normally are, so they set up others’ expectations inaccurately by pretending to be cool with things that secretly drive them insane.
For example, If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t normally share tools, don’t be loaning out your flat iron on Day 1 and your blow drier on Day 2 or you’ll set a precedent that will have you flipping your lid on Day 8.
It’s too hard to force yourself to pretend to be someone you aren’t, especially for long periods of time. During those first few weeks at a new job you’ll be learning a lot about your coworkers, but they’ll be learning about you too. It’s in everyone’s best interest if you make sure they’re seeing your real self and not a character you play while you’re on-the-clock.
Remember, your relationships with your coworkers will strengthen over time, so don’t force things. Be cordial, do your job, and allow yourself to settle into place naturally. Before long, your newness will fade and you’ll be part of the team.