The first day on a new job – Excitement, anticipation, fear, for the new employee AND their family. An employee’s first day can make the difference between them staying and leaving, between them being motivated and engaged or just riding out their time until something better comes along. I’m going to illustrate my point by tracking the first day experiences of two new star employees: Jane Regret and Tom Happy. Think about which story sounds like your company.
Jane’s first day starts with her husband wishing her luck. She arrives early, beaming with excitement. Jane becomes concerned as she learns the receptionist wasn’t expecting her and didn’t know if her boss Joe Smith was even in. After ten minutes of calls and pages the receptionist finally reaches Joe, who apparently forgot she was starting that day. Jane is asked to go to HR to fill out paperwork and told that Joe will meet her later. Jane spends the next two hours in HR signing forms, hearing about benefits, and watching an old company video. HR takes Jane to her desk, which really isn’t her desk because they haven’t figured out yet where Jane will sit. HR gives Jane the policy manual to read and sign now, a catalog to order supplies and is told her computer should arrive in a few days. Joe Smith finally pops in between meetings for a quick hello, telling Jane he’ll see her at Fred’s going away party this afternoon. After going out to lunch by herself Jane attends the party for Fred, who is moving on after only 5 years. Joe actually missed the party so Jane will try to find him on Tuesday. Jane gets home and tells her husband that she may have made a big mistake.
Tom Happy’s wife Linda was surprised to find a rather large package from Tom’s new employer on the porch, especially since he hadn’t even started working there yet. As Linda opens the box she calls to Tom, “Wow, it’s all kinds of company merchandise, shirts, hats, sweatshirts, etc. There is also a copy of the company handbook for you to read. And look there are tickets to the local baseball game – how did they know we love baseball? And a note from your boss Jack Smith – Welcome aboard, can’t wait to start hitting home runs together. See you in a month!”
Tom leaves home on day one and Linda kisses him goodbye and wishes him well. He arrives early and as he approaches the receptionist he sees his picture on the large TV in the lobby that reads “Today is Tom Happy day! Welcome Tom.” The receptionist tells Tom they are glad to see him and that Jack will be right here. Jack greets Tom, “I am so glad you are here, look we need you to sign some paperwork but first, let’s meet your teammates.” As they approach Tom’s work area he sees streamers, balloons, and a gathering of people.
Tom’s teammates have gathered for coffee and bagels to welcome him. They talk baseball, kids, share funny stories, etc. When Tom enters his office everything is there – supplies, computer, business cards, etc. After a quick visit to HR, Tom and Jack meet for several hours to review Tom’s 90 day plan and success factors. Several co-workers take Tom to lunch and share company history, why they came here, how important Tom’s role is to the team, and answer his questions about what it is really like to work here. Tom arrives home beaming and tells Linda how she won’t believe the day he had. Replies Linda, “I have an idea – look what Jack sent us – a bottle of wine with this note – Welcome aboard Tom and Linda, let’s raise a toast to a great new relationship. We’re so glad you two have joined our family.”
These stories, while extreme, do teach us some valuable lessons about how we start our new employees. Think about Tom and Jane. Which one is more motivated? Which one is already questioning their decision? Which one is susceptible to being recruited away? What will each person tell their family, their friends? What might they post on Facebook or glassdoor.com?
Now, think about which story most resembles your company. Most organizations I’m afraid resemble Jane’s experience. Everyone’s doing more with less so few have time to go that extra mile for new employees. At other companies “only the strong survive,” so they intentionally do not pamper newbies.
Feeling unwelcome, having a boss that doesn’t have time, an unclear job plan all increase the odds that you’ll lose that new star. And once word gets out about your culture you’ll have a harder time attracting new stars. You’ll also lose the training costs you’ve sunk into new employees as they leave. Depending on the level of position it can take anywhere from 8 to 28 weeks for a new employee to reach full productivity.
With this backdrop, here are some components of the best on-boarding plans. Notice that these activities don’t require a large budget, just time and attention.
- Activities that make a new employee feel welcome. First impressions that people form about your company are extremely hard to overcome. Instead of just throwing parties for people who are leaving, celebrate your new stars.
- One-on-one time with supervisor and other leadership. Don’t rush someone onto the payroll if you don’t have time to spend with them. Consider having new employee start on a day other than Monday if that’s your busiest.
- Introduction into the formal and informal culture. Consider activities such as CEO meetings with newhires, “skip level” lunches, lunch-n-learns, and a buddy system to help new employees understand expected behaviors.
- A carefully chosen mentor or buddy to help them navigate through your culture, processes and operation. A safe place to learn how things really operate.
- Just-in-time resources that provide answers for the new employee. Company acronym dictionaries, process diagrams, auto-enrolled into appropriate listserves and forums, phone lists, community information for relocations, etc.
- Feedback and guidance on job performance. Make sure your new hires are working a clear 90 day plan versus walking around aimlessly, with regrets.
A successful on-boarding process should cover the entire first year for the new hire and include all activities through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective. When done right, on-boarding can lead to higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.
So start them off right and watch them soar. Or, start them off wrong and watch them fly away. Your choice.
p.s. And when you lose a long term star from your team, odds are they’ll find themselves in a bad first day questioning their move. Call them that first day and just tell them you’re thinking about them and hoping they are having a great first day!
Learn more about how our Advice & Resolution team can help you design a great onboarding program for your organization.
Doug Blizzard, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP serves as CAI’s Vice President of Membership, and has been with CAI for more than 15 years. Doug is well-versed in the world of HR from compliance issues to workforce management to aligning business objectives with HR. He strives to constantly improve the member experience and provide employers with the confidence needed to turn fears and opportunities into practical actions and results. If your HR team could benefit from some guidance, you’ll want to learn more about CAI.