By SU-ANN CHIEN
When you start working, things will be different,” they say.
But what is the difference between school and work? Both certainly have their own benefits and disadvantages. Students want to start earning a steady income, while working adults want their school holidays back.
But there are similarities. Both environments require the participants to complete a set of tasks while under the supervision of a superior; both environments have interactive elements and both environments facilitate competitiveness and growth. So maybe the school and office have much more in common than we previously thought.
Regardless of whether we are in school or in the office, we are fighting for the top spot. Reward and recognition go to the cream of the crop while the average ones are lost in a sea of faceless numbers.
Schools and educational institutions constantly reward outstanding achievers with certificates of excellence, leadership positions, opportunities for development and even scholarships.
Correspondingly, these “indicators” of academic success are usually chased after by students (and sometimes even parents) because they often translate into visible advantages in the workplace.
Fresh graduates hoping to secure a job in the 21st century need not only a degree, but also prove themselves to be exceptional in all aspects whether curricular or co-curricular.
Decorated resumes these days are a necessity to qualify for an interview not to mention securing a job. The more certificates, scholarships, merit awards and leadership positions the fresh graduate has had in school, the more leverage he/she has over other graduates with just top grades.
Impressive CVs aren’t just about landing the job, they are about proving that you ought to be remembered over hundreds of other applicants. What pushes you to excel over others in school also reinforces the same behaviour in the office.
However, while both spaces place high expectations on their participants, the conditions for competition are vastly different at work compared with at school.
The prerogative for excellence in school is a mandated culture, where expectations are placed on the student to succeed but he/she is also given all the help and guidance needed.
In the office though, the choice to outclass peers is personal. There are no safety nets or guidance counsellors to motivate the employee. Should his/her performance fall below expected levels of conduct, the onus is entirely on the employee to improve or risk losing his/her job.
The goal of school is to promote independence in achieving excellence and the office is the space to practise that independence. Schools will have teachers and counsellors to prod the student along if they are underperforming, but nobody in the office will sacrifice personal investment unnecessarily.
Another difference that exists between work and school is that the classroom is an environment that is conditioned with equality while the office is not. Schools set standardised tests, streamline students according to ability and create neutral environments so that everyone is given an equal footing in the pursuit of education.
The office, however, hardly ever reproduces that same kind of ideal. Colleagues of every level have different experiences which may give them extra advantage over you. In the office, the employee is expected to thrive in ambiguous waters and succeed over individuals with varying gifts and abilities.
While school does not prepare one for conditions such as these, the office does have the benefit of working in teams for a common goal. School is a highly individualistic system where students study for personal value: exams and assignments are completed individually and the credit is given respectively too.
Office spaces usually require the involvement of several parties and it’s an essential skill to learn how to cooperate with others to achieve bottom-line results.
The rewards of school are for the virtue of one, but the employee needs to learn to share credit with his/her team for the glory of the organisation, not just his/her own.
The biggest difference between work and school, however, lies in the fact that school is about you, the individual. School is about the student: his preferences, abilities, development, strengths and weaknesses. It’s a time for self-discovery and the maturing of a personality.
The educational experience helps you discover your individual passions, voice and interests.
Work, however, shifts that focus from the individual to the entity. The responsibility is now to the team, the allegiance to the organisation, skills and talents for the benefits of the client.
Regardless of the numerous differences, however, one similarity remains and holds the greatest importance regardless the environment.
Character counts, whether one is in the office or the classroom. Ethics and integrity is upheld from young, as can be seen from the way plagiarism is not tolerated in educational institutes. Similarly, the office aims to instill positive work ethics and reduce cheating as much as possible.
Character is of greater worth to any institute or organisation than talent can be, because it is not revenue that determines its staying power, but the calibre of its leaders.
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