How to treat new employees

A few weeks ago I spoke with Jane, who’d just been hired as a project manager. She was excited to start in the new company, but her first day at work was not exactly a good experience. Her boss was out to meetings all day and her new colleagues were so busy that nobody had time to brief her of her tasks.

There wasn’t even a desk ready for her and she had to go get a PC from the IT department and an access card from security herself. Jane felt let down, ignored and badly treated and now doubts very much whether she took the right job.

A person’s first day on a new job is a stressful time even under the best of circumstances. You don’t know anyone there, you don’t know your job, you don’t know the written and unwritten rules of the workplace – and yet you have a burning desire to do well, to show your worth and to excel.

The least a workplace can do is to make an effort to show new hires that they’re wanted and make their first day a nice one.

It’s a crucial time and that is why welcoming new people does actually pay off. Studies show that new employees who have undergone a successful start-up process are 69% more likely to still be in the company after 3 years and they reach their full production rate 2 months faster.

The alternative – for employees who simply get thrown in to sink or swim – is reality shock. They feel that the job doesn’t meet the expectations created during hiring and that will make them less happy at work, less committed and more likely to leave the company again.

And this is not exactly rocket science. Here are 4 practical tips to how any organization should treat all new employees.

1: Be there for them the first day.

It is crucial that the manager is there to meet new employees with a smile and a handshake when they arrive. There should be time set aside for meeting the colleagues, e.g. over breakfast in the department. A bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers as a small welcome gift would not be a bad thing. The U.S. dialysis company DaVita even send a bouquet of flowers home to the spouse, to also welcome them in the DaVita family.

Also, the manager should be there again at the end of the first work day, to ask how the first day went and follow up on any problems or questions.

2: Have the practical stuff ready

It is not a good sign if people arrive on their first day and neither desk, PC, login or access card is ready. That’s why all the practical things just have to be in place before they arrive.

3: Give them a solid technical introduction

It should be needless to mention it, but new employees have to be promptly and thoroughly briefed about the professional skills they need in order to do their job well. In Rosenbluth International, a travel agency in the U.S., all new employees spent a week with one of the most seasoned co-workers, so they could see exactly how to do things. Of course it cost the experienced staff some time, but that time investment paid off many times because the new employees learned how to do the job just as well as the very best.

4: Lay down the culture

And just as important as the professional introduction is the cultural – that new employees from the start experience the organization’s culture from its best side. All new employees at Disney
World in Florida (about 15,000 new people a year!) take part in a 1-day course called Disney Traditions, which has one single purpose: To teach them the Disney culture. Here the story of Walt Disney and all the positive things the company stands for is told. It gives pride and happiness at work from day one.

Zappos.com go even further. The company is only 11 years old, but already sell shoes online for over 1 billion dollars a year. Here all new employees join a 4-week seminar, which introduces them to the professional content of the job, but especially to the Zappos culture characterized by commitment, happiness at work and good service. As part of the course all the new people get ‘the offer': “If you feel that you do not belong to Zappos, and choose to quit before the course is over, then you get paid for the 4 weeks plus $ 2000 on top. ” It ensures that all those who are not quite sure if Zappos is right for them, leave the job early.

The first time in a new job very much sets the trend for the rest of your time at the work place which is why every workplace should take extreme care to greet people in the best possible way.

And if you want to know how your workplace is doing, here is my challenge to you: Find 3 of your newest employees and ask them how their first days in the company felt. And then listen openly to what they have to say.

Your take

What were your first few days in your current job like? What’s the best thing a workplace has done for you as a new hire? What’s the worst thing? Did you ever feel uncertain or unwelcome? Please write a comment, I’d love to know your take.

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29 thoughts on “How to treat new employees”

  1. As I read this all I could think of is all the companies I worked for who got it right and the amazing culture and commitment that people felt when on that 1st day there was no un-necessary stress.

    Then I thought about all the companies that just don’t get it…

  2. In my job as ICT consultant, I succeeded someone who had retired a few months before. There was another colleague who had the same job, but he was on a sabbatical. So there was nobody who could tell me what my job was. I loved it! I could make whatever I want of it. I just started talking to people and there were so many things I could do to make their jobs easier, I just started by doing that. Within 6 months, I was the go-to-girl for all the ICT problems. By that time, the other ICT consultant came back and was surprised to discover I did the job totally different than he did. He liked my pro-active attitude very much and said that he felt that was how the job should be done. He didn’t have the knowledge to be the troubleshooter that the company needed. Soon afterwards, he found another job in the company that fit him perfectly and another consultant was hired to replace him as my colleague. We were both very happy the way things turned out!

  3. I believe the worst a company can do is to treat its new arrivals differently. I experienced many of the issues mentioned in this article on my first day: a completely messy desk, no access card or keys, no help getting my computer up and running. In coming months, I was tasked with completing all these tasks (and evaluated on how well I completed them) and coordinating welcome breakfasts for incoming employees! It was hard not to feel disrespected.

  4. Oh Alexander I wish I could shout this out to all people in my company! We introduce people atrociously – but it is unfortunately expected in our industry…the attitude of ‘get in and start working’ – a very unfair expectation!

    It can so easily be rectified with doing the simple things as you have mentioned – like providing a notepad, pen, and a desk. Everyone wants to feel like they belong and that they have made the right choice – it is a stressful time for a lot of people.

    And WOW DaVita – what a nice thing to do – that would command my loyalty to the company immediately!

    Thanks for the great post (yet again!).

  5. Wouw, this article is very helpful. I hope, one of my management team have read it.

    While It was my first day in an organization, I didn’t meet my project manager as the position hadn’t yet been fullfilled, and the one who interviewed me (HR coordinator) was not settled in the same city with me.

    I’m the HR but had no induction, introduction and training. It’s really awful for along time, all of my workmates were not cooperative and give me a lot of problems/issues only with a little help. Moreover, less of 1 month, my project manager resigned and 2 months after that, my HR Coordinator also resigned.

    Not for along time, I think better to resign also as I’m feeling dissapointed to this international class, in fact has apoor management sytem.

    As HR, myself, I got a poor treat of being new hire. :(

  6. That bad first day is standard here. And when I mean standard I really mean standard, it happens to each and every person that comes here. I have tried changing the culture here plenty of times but us lowly people are not worth listening to.

  7. I agree with all of the above and would just like to add that it’s important to make people feel independent and useful (and as the experts they really are and have been hired for) from day 1.

    People should be welcomed as a “long awaited NEW assett” and respected for their years of “OLD” expertise that they bring along.
    Instead, many people people feel excluded and like “beginners” when they have to ask for the most simple things like “where’s the bathroom” on their first day. They might be beginners in the new company, but they are not beginners when it comes to their experience and expertise.

    See my full take on this here http://yellowumbrellanews.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/creating-a-positive-first-day-for-new-hires/

    I agree that it’s different for everyone, like in Xaf’s case above where it presented an opportunity. However it’s a specific personality type who reacts like that, which represents the smallest percentage of the population…

    So I guess we can never go wrong in giving new hires a nice welcome and being prepared for them. How intensively we train them on the job or if we give them the opportunity to just “go and run with it”, depends on the job and on the person.
    Which is why I believe the answer lies in the middle – don’t put them in a full time training of several days or weeks (or the opposite – no training at all) but split their onboarding time evenly in work and training: Even when they’re still in training, give them already a chance to spend time at their desk where they can start contributing to their team and getting recognition from their new colleagues for the value they add.

    Anja

  8. I have had only one company where I actually had an introductory day. All others were like being thrown into the deep end of a pool and then being told to swim.

    But I have heard other horror stories which were much worse. One company I worked for had a colleague be without a computer for a whole month. And her job was computer based.

  9. Dear Alex,

    Thank you for this article which reminded me to the many “first days” I had. Actually, apart from the first day as an apprentice, I never actually experienced a welcome that mad me FEEL welcome. Some of the starts were quite OK and I felt that at least they thought about doing a good job. Yet mostly they did not succeed and even mentioned to me that they did not have time to arrange everything.

    In my last job, where I worked as a PA to the top guy, I did not even have an office when I arrived (it was under construction). They had organized a table/chair set (cannot call it desk or office chair), a computer and a telephone. All the other things, I had to arrange, meaning my first project was to organize and monitor the refurbishment work for the offices (3 in total), decide on the furniture that was hand-made (and needed to be approved by my boss’ wife who was a feng shui consultant), push the carpenters and designers and had to live with tables that were too high in the end and did not meet international standards for furniture. I need to mention that this was all in the Middle East.

    Fax machine and printer were delivered after I picked a machine, so until then I could not order business cards as the numbers were not available. The announcement of my arrival arrived on my 2nd day after I had already attended meetings and spoken to people. I did not have an induction at all. After 4 weeks I asked HR/Training, and they asked me to organize it myself! Which I did.

    They cancelled my induction training that was originally scheduled for the first week and moved it by 4 weeks! The training was good, at least!

    One would ask: Why did I stay? Apart from organisational things, I stayed because I learned that mine was actually one of the better arrival experiences. Most people arrived from overseas by night, had to find their way to their apartment alone, wake-up security to get a key and in the morning somehow arrive at the office! I heard a lot of horrible stories that happened, admittedly during pre-opening stage of the company, and was so surprised that even after nearly a year the process had not been improved.

    Is it a surprise that “people issues” were the main issues the management had to deal with on a daily basis?

  10. What kind of manager is Jane, if she can’t get PC and access card on her own, and organize her own first day at work?

    In my current job, I’ve just arrived 1 day earlier (without telling anyone about this), knowing that my PC won’t be setup anyway. They setup me a PC, and I spend half a day talking with different people in the company, from different departments (asking everyone if he/she can spend some time talking – if the person was busy, I just let him do his job)

    But the quit offer in Zappos is brilliant idea!

    And yes, I agree that first day is really important for the employee!

    My point was that if you at a management / leadership position, don’t expect someone to be there for you – you have to be there for the others. And you have to make the first impressions about yourself, not waiting to receive your impression in the company. After all, you are there to change it for the better :)

  11. Brilliant, and necessary, post, Alexander. Thank you for raising the topic for discussion.

    I wrote elsewhere on this:

    Introduce your employees to your culture of appreciation on their very first day. Show them how much you appreciate them joining your team and set the precedent for them on how their efforts will be recognized. This alone will accomplish a feeling of welcome and ramping up to maximum productivity quickly.

    In today’s economic environment, there is no time for new hires to leisurely settle into their jobs. Show them clearly what their efforts will accomplish – for themselves personally and for the company as a whole – from the very first day.

  12. Wow, this post is certainly timely! Let me share: I was called by a woman who wondered if I could join her on her management team, I could be her senior assistant, even though i hadn’t applied for this position I wasn’t required to re-interview with anyone, yes she could meet my salary expectations, could I start tomorrow… Red flag number 1. But the eternal optimist in me thought I was just getting a lucky break. Showed up on day one, the place is FILTHY and unorganized, and when I inquired about is this the normal state of things, I was told that basically I would have to over-look it….Red flag number 2. I received two days of marginal training for operations, and then she tells me that she will be leaving for the next 10 days on vacation, leaving me to operate alone with only basic systems knowledge. The employees inform me on day 3 that I will have to watch my back around her, and that they were laying odds that I wouldn’t last there…SERIOUS Red flag number 3. Within my first month I found my working environment to be unbearable. End of story- just three months later I am looking for other employment. This was the worst employment experience I have had in 20 years, and now I am burdened with explaining starting and quitting a job in such a short time-span. Lesson learned, but at a terrible cost!

  13. I didn’t had such experiences myself but some of friends had. One of them in situation similar to one described at the top of your post had waited till lunch and then he slipped his card under the bosses door with a note “When somebody will know why I should be here – let me know.” and walked away.

    Of course company never called again ;)

  14. I worked for a company that would schedule (ahead of time) meetings for a new employee with all the department directors. They would have one meeting each day for approximately two weeks (or until they had met everyone). I thought it was great because it gave the new employee a chance to meet everyone and learn their role, but in a way that wasn’t too overwhelming!

    Also, I think it should be mandatory that the boss take a new hire for lunch, coffee, etc. on the first day. You need time to get to know each other and start forming a relationship on day 1.

  15. I moved to New York with my company in 2009, I was so excited as I was moving to one of the best cities in the world.

    No-one spoke to me for 3 days when I started, I was on my own in an office with no windows and no-one to show me the ropes or introduce me. In fact, I only started making friends when we moved to an open plan office 6 months later as my work is new to this office.

    The only reason I’m still here is because I love New York and don’t think I will get a visa sponsored but I am already thinking about going home. I want to be a success and don’t think I can do that here – this post really made me realise how much I have put up with since joining because I want to live here

    If someone had taken the time to at least make me feel welcome when I arrived, I wonder how different the last 18 months would have been. People don’t think about the effect they have on colleagues with their behavior and I am often shocked and how callous we can be to each other and somehow it’s okay because we’re at work

  16. One of my tricks is to contact the new hire one week prior to their start date. I share with them how excited I am that they are joining the team. I re-iterate how I’m certain they will be successful and how I’m looking forward to the leverage they will provide me and their co-workers. Lastly, I invite them out to a celebratory lunch for their first day. I feel this secures the employees decision to accept the offer and energizes them about the possibilities. I’m hopeful it also helps soften the inevitable IT or administrative issues.

  17. Great post! Fortunately I have been treated very well on my first days, usually shown to my desk and given the basics. Two out of three companies took me out to lunch. But I think I was just lucky with my particular teams…as I noticed other people’s first days weren’t as great. The computer set up is ALWAYS the worst. And the industry I worked in was so crazy busy that we were always running around. If I was in charge of the new person I always tried to be as nice as possible and spend a lot of time with them.

    Companies should set a standard for new-comers to make the process run more smoothly.

  18. Wow, I can definitely relate to this post. I had a horror story happen to me a few years back.

    I was hired by a German software company in the US, so the first thing they did was sent me to Germany for training. I thought GREAT I get paid to live in Germany for 3 months while I train. But, the nightmare started shortly after I arrived. When I showed up for work/training the first day. No one knew who I was or why I was there. I had no desk no computer. So, they said there was a guy out sick so I could use his desk for that day. For training they gave me copy of the software (I was hired to be a software consultant btw) and a manual and said, “play around with it, you’ll figure it out.” After about a week of shifting around to desks where someone wasn’t there that day, I finally found out from another international that there were training classes. So, I told the head of my department that I was going to join the classes. He said he’d check to see if I was allowed. I went anyway. After about a month I made friends with the Dutch office and one of the consultants sorted out a laptop for me. Meanwhile repeated attempts to contact my boss in the US ended with no response.
    To make a long story short after two months with no response from my boss, and 2 months of classroom training. I organized a desk for myself (With strong resistance from the head of the department), and organized trips with other consultants to tag along as they visited clients. So, I finally started to feel like I was learning something and moving forward.

    Then suddenly my boss contacted me and was upset because I had talked to the head of HR about not hearing from my boss for 2 months and being sent over without anyone in the HQ knowing. Then he said he didn’t want me training with the consultants in Germany and there was too much work in the US and I needed to come home.

    Guess what happened when I returned to the US. I had no computer, no company cell, no regular phone and no login for the company network. Wait for the kicker… I was scheduled to do phone support!

    Needless to say I was never happy with the company. I ended up leaving in less than a year to start my own company. Oh yeah, they have since pretty much shut down their US division because it was doing so poorly. Go figure

  19. I can relate to everything you’ve said in this post.

    As a recent graduate, I spent my time over the summer in various work experience placements. It’s always tough entering a new office for the first time, but spending my time skipping from one office to the next was really draining. Thankfully, I was warmly received by all of the employees that I encountered. Had I been left in the lurch on one of those first days I would have probably reconsidered whether or not I wanted to stay there for the agreed term, especcially seeing as I was working for free. But this was not the case. As a result, I got a few weeks of experience and my temporary colleagues got around 100 hours of free work! Everyone’s a winner.

  20. It’s so nice to hear about all these experiences of the “first day of work.” I had a pleasant experience being welcomed by the company, and thoroughly felt at ease during orientation and training. The problem occurred when I entered the unit of the hospital in which I was hired to work. I knew the computer programs, hospital policies, etc. etc., but of course, because it was my first day, I didn’t where all the forms were kept. The manager for that day was definitely not in a good mood on that day, and she yelled at me, saying–“Didn’t they train you in anything?!” I was too shocked to answer her. Since she’s the manager and she’s the one who had been working their for 20 years, she should have known where everything was. But several months later, she apologized for her behavior, so I suppose it was a happy ending…

  21. Some of the stories here make me want to weep.

    As you say. it’s not rocket science, so it certainly gives me a new respect for rocket scientists!! :)

  22. Yes, I think we’ve all had first days like that – – makes it special when you are treated right. I’m going to save this article so I’ll have the copy if it ever happens to me again. What do you think would happen if I sent it to the “new” boss??

  23. A great example of a company making a new employee feel welcome has to be Humana. They sent a welcome package to a freshly minted MBA before she even arrived for her first day. She was definitely blown away by it.

    Building on Alexander’s suggestions, check out http://bit.ly/9AjsIN

  24. @Alicia – I am in the same boat as you. I have twenty years of experience but after 3 months into my current job, I am giving up. I started out in the same vein as you…only I had to volunteer two weeks without pay to learn the system. I guess that was the biggest red flag. I won’t get into all the other details about why this job is a big bust for me but will say that I thank you for your post and I know I am not alone. Lately I’ve been feeling very alone in my experiences. Good luck to you and I hope you found the job that matches your skills and passions.

    Wish me luck…I turn in my resignation tomorrow.

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