Dave Conrad: Make new workers feel welcome
Dear Dave: I am writing to you about helping new employees feel welcome. My department is fairly large, and we frequently have employees coming and going. Lately, we have done more hiring from outside of the company, and we have brought in new workers who have some complicated jobs.
I think management does a good job of helping the new workers get acquainted with their jobs and their responsibilities, but I don’t think management, and many of my co-workers, are good at making the new workers feel welcomed, accepted and part of the team. Please write about this important matter. — L
Dear L: I can tell you are someone who may have suffered through this problem and also realize employees are real people who have feelings, fears, needs and desires when they start employment — especially if the job is at a new company.
I, too, recall starting jobs at new companies and my new co-workers — as well as management — had very little concern for me as a person, and made me feel like a new cog in a machine. I recall looking around for a friendly face and then only seeing people so wrapped up in their work that taking the time to say “Hi” was of little importance to them.
When I started a new job, my style was to be friendly with my new co-workers. However, if I reached out to say, “Hello” or “How are you doing?” I would often hear a very sterile, “OK” that had all of the warmth and friendliness of a rattlesnake. Some, though few, would even make disparaging remarks about how bad the company was and that I was nuts for coming on board. How’s that for a morale booster?
However, on some occasions, a friendly voice would be heard, telling me if I had any questions, they were there to help me. These same new co-workers would even take the time to help me meet some of my other new teammates. They stuck their necks out to make me feel welcome, even though their manager might frown on doing so because it took them away from their work for a few minutes. The sad part is, these friendly co-workers were doing what management should have been doing — getting me acclimated to the environment and the people.
Make workers feel at home
I realize the workplace will never be a nightclub with people laughing, drinking and carrying-on (whatever carrying-on means to people), but the workplace should be a setting where people are friendly to each other, reach out to help those who are struggling and need help with job demands and support each other when they are down. I think co-workers should not do the job of management, but if managers are neglecting their duties, I believe it is only right and responsible if workers create a welcoming and hospitable environment.
I understand managers might not be able to get new workers accepted into the subculture employees have, but they can at least take time to introduce new workers to the co-workers with whom they will work closest. I think even a brief introduction is better than nothing. If a new worker does not experience and understand who does what, they will feel detached and out of the loop. New workers need to know who their co-workers are and how what they are doing could affect them.
In truth, I believe it is the co-workers who end up doing a great part of the teaching and training a new worker needs. How great it is to be surrounded by informal mentors who sincerely reach out to a new worker by showing them the ropes and how to best get things done — most frequently, these things may not be spelled out in a job description or a company manual. Managers can set the stage for this acclimation process, and they can even set up a more formal mentoring relationship by matching an experienced worker with the new worker — that is, of course, if the mentor is willing to take on the relationship.
Managers should check in often with the new worker but not smother the life out of them. They can set up intervals to check to see how the new worker is doing or if they need anything to do their work better. At each of these touchpoints, the manager can take some time to help deepen the relationships the new worker has with other newer or veteran employees by gathering the new employee and a few of their co-workers to just spend some time chatting over coffee.
In summary, I think that how an employee starts a job will dictate how the employee will continue to work. If the new worker is truly given the attention and time they need to get to know their co-workers, not only will they embrace the opportunity, but they will remember how to show the same kindness to new workers that come on board after them.