Five Ways to Welcome New Employees and Improve Staff Retention

Larry Wenger
June 26, 2009 — 2,872 views  
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Do new employees feel welcome in your organization? Recent thinking in Human Resources places a greater importance on the experience of new employees during the first six months of employment. Like a lot of management concepts, it's the kind of common sense thinking that we somehow never get to implementing. I mean, who could argue with the notion that if we make new employees feel welcome, we stand a better chance of getting them thru what can be a difficult new employee transition?

As common sense as it may seem, I have heard lots of stories from new employees who in fact were feeling distinctly un-welcomed. There was no one assigned to help them; it was a "sink or swim" proposition. For reasons not entirely clear to them, the veteran employees were very in-hospitable, not willing to do anything that would help them quickly learn (for example) where the bathroom was? Was it the new employee's salary, the way they talked, the threat of someone new taking their responsibilities? It was never completely clear but for whatever reason, the vibes they were getting were not pleasant and in some cases, downright hostile.

Washington Post columnist, Mary Ellen Slayter, talks about a new book called "Punching In" by Alex Frankel. Alex talks about his experience in his two year, post layoff, campaign to find new employment. He spent short stints in entry level, temporary jobs with some of the nation's leading corporations: Starbucks, Apple, Gap etc. His favorite experience was the time he spent with UPS. "Despite the long hours, hard physical labor and bad weather...UPS had inculcated me...a year later I'd pull on the warm, brown quilted vest and feel a sense of power and place."

How do your new employees feel about their decision to come to work for you? Or are they, victims of a bad economy, just happy to have a job? Or are their expectations very low, like a friend of mine who once said, "if work was supposed to be fun, they'd call it golf." In either case, with better economic times on the albeit distant horizon, the time is now to focus on making the new employees' transition less painful. You want them to quickly develop an understanding of what your company or organization is trying to accomplish and to develop some pride in that. You want them to feel comfortable. How to do this? Here are five suggestions:

1. Have someone call a new employee a week before their start date and tell them how much their arrival is anticipated. Twenty years ago, I got a call like that from a new employer and I remember it as though it was yesterday. Specifically they said that they were painting my office and what color would I prefer? Very nice and totally unexpected.
2. Send out a press release announcing their arrival. It's important to have an ongoing media outreach campaign. Articles about your organization in the newspaper are something that new employees will often point out to friends and family with a sense of pride. It's a definite win-win strategy.
3. Before the start date, appoint an organizational peer to be a "buddy" or mentor. This is different from a supervisor. This is a peer from whom the new employee can get helpful information about really practical tips like where to hang your coat and other features of the company culture.
4. Make sure that a supervisor has been assigned who knows the importance of being very active with the new employee during the coming weeks. This is not the time for a two-week supervisory conference schedule. Supervisory contact should be at least daily, during the first several weeks. Doesn't need to be a long meeting but just a contact to check on how things are going or to give some quick feedback. It's much easier to back off to less frequent supervisory contact than it is to intensify the schedule. Supervisors must be committed to the success of all employees, especially new ones.
5. Introduce all new employees to the boss. This should be more than the obligatory handshake although that does provide a nice photo opportunity. This should be the first of hopefully many times where the employee hears about his/her role in making the organization successful.

Take pride in your hire decisions; leverage a new employee into someone who will add to your company many times over. Get a free ebooklet on staff retention by subscribing to our semi-monthly newsletter; click on the Leadership Training link below.
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Larry Wenger