Make New Employees Feel Wanted

Apr 10, 2006

Before sitting down last week for a meeting with one of our PhD students— a German fellow named Sven— we both agreed that we’d like some coffee first. I asked Sven if he wanted to go to the student quick shop in the dorms across the street from our offices in The Walton College Building or to the machines in the basement. He said “neither,” and that he wanted some cappuccino. I said “great, but where can you get that?” His reply was “the third floor.” “Where do they have that on the third floor?” I asked. “In the faculty lounge,” he replied. “What faculty lounge?” I asked. We went to an unmarked door on the third floor, and there we were in a comfortably furnished room with a full complement of coffee-making machinery. It was the first time I’d ever been there, and I have worked for the college now for more than 14 months. No one had bothered to show me! Don’t you think that made me feel special? Believe me, A/E/P and environmental firms aren’t much better at orientation than colleges and universities are. I sold my house and moved almost 300 miles to take my first marketing and human resources director job in an A/E firm. And, when I got there, they didn’t even have an office for me to work in. My boss, looking as if it were the first moment he’d thought about it (after a one-month delay from my acceptance of the job till I started), walked around the building with me in tow, looking for a place to put me. I ended up in a cubicle in the farthest corner from the executive suite, a floor up, and next to the asbestos-abatement techs behind the survey department. Let me tell you, right then and there, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. With hiring occurring at an accelerating pace, these kinds of situations are happening every day. Sometimes the new guy or girl does go home at the end of the first day, never to return, and we wonder “why?” My experience tells me that, 9 times out of 10, it’s because the new person has been left on their own, to fend for themselves, before being ready to do so. New employees need a lot of hand-holding. They need someone to take them around. They need someone to show them the ropes. And they need someone who can do that and put the right spin on things, not someone who is negative or bitter about their mistreatment by the company. It’s been proven many times that the companies who spend adequate time to orient their new employees are rewarded with lower turnover and more productive workers faster than those who don’t do these kinds of things. It’s a lot more than a few introductions and “here’s your computer!” Somebody needs to take charge of new-employee orientation and integration and make it happen. Show new people everything more than once. Help them remember names by making all existing employees wear nametags during the new employee’s first week or 10 days on the job. Give out maps to the building. Assign a buddy who is going to take their role as an orientation person seriously. So how do you fare? Are your new people finding out about the company coffee machines months after they start? IF you need to do better, get with it! Originally published 4/10/2006

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