Your Newest Employees Are Your Most Vulnerable

Your Newest Employees Are Your Most Vulnerable

by George Blomgren

I used to know a headhunter who specialized in recruiting candidates away from new jobs. His success reflected his belief that employees in their first 30 days in a new job were the easiest to recruit.

If this is true, a lot of employers are sitting on a significant risk, one that is getting worse as the Talent War escalates. After all, the vast majority of employers tend to think a new employee is secure the moment he or she accepts an offer. That’s a mistake! Consider just a few reasons:

1.) Buyers remorse.

Most people are not terribly comfortable with change, and starting a new job is a huge and traumatic change. This is the reality of a new employee’s situation, even if you are a great employer.

2.) Feeling ignorant.

Remember what it feels like when you start a new job? Drinking from the fire hose, trying to absorb/learn and process so many new things! Such as everybody’s names, who to talk to about which questions, which printer to print to, new processes and procedures and systems, and where to get lunch. (Not to mention all the “unwritten rules,” how a new culture works, and a whole new set of politics!) As a new employee, you feel like the village idiot.

3.) Too much/little meaningful work.

After a while in a job, an employee not only has the knowledge to tackle anything that comes up, they also have the knowledge to proactively manage their pipeline of work. That’s rarely the case in a new job. Unless someone is carefully spoon feeding you the right amount of work for those first few weeks, it’s common to feel bored or overwhelmed, and usually vacillate between both.

4.) Missing friends.

The majority of workers formed close relationships with at least a few of their prior co-workers. That may have been the one thing that kept them coming to work, even if they were otherwise miserable in their prior job! In a new job, typically they are surrounded by strangers. The natural inclination is to feel lonely and isolated, plus they have no one to talk about about the preceding concerns!

Fortunately, addressing these problems isn’t rocket science, although it requires a very real and sustained commitment to activities that may seem unnatural in a bottom-line focused culture. (Not that they should seem unnatural — the cost of turnover is very high.)

Here are some ideas that will help ensure that new employees adjust as quickly as possible, and stay the course:

  1. Onboarding isn’t a two day process, or even a week or a month. A smart onboarding program includes activities that last at least six months to a year, and smart employers make practice of “re-recruiting” all of their employees as long as they remain.
  2. Don’t overwhelm a new employee with scheduled onboarding activities. Don’t underwhelm them either. Start with around 80% scheduled time, and slowly taper off.
  3. Make sure a new employee’s manager is largely accessible the first few days and can spend time with the new employee on their first day. Train the manager to share their expectations and management style, and begin to establish a personal relationship.
  4. If possible, it’s ideal if the CEO or a top level executive can spend time with a new employee in their first few days or at least say hello. It sends a clear message to the employee about how much they are valued.
  5. Consider implementing a “passport” program where new employees meet with key leaders throughout the organization for a 30 minute orientation. There is no more efficient, effective way to expose new employees to the different areas and managers that comprise your whole organization.
  6. Provide an appropriate project for the new employee to work on as time permits. The ideal project isn’t extremely urgent, and is manageable based on their current level of skills. Better yet, as the project evolves, it requires interaction with new peers and development of new knowledge.
  7. Take a new employee out for lunch on their first day. This is hardly exceptional; it’s so common, it’s an expectation, and you don’t want to disappoint. Include some of their new peers, to help kick start those critical personal relationships. (In fact, consider simply arranging to have their peers take them out for lunch — with no managers present.)
  8. If possible, start a new employee on a Friday. The first day on a new job can be quite overwhelming, and this gives a new employee the opportunity to process and unwind before starting their first full week.
  9. Provide comprehensive “self service” tools in support of onboarding. For example, an intranet that includes an employee directory (with photos and office locations and some personal info), employee handbook, interactive training videos on the primary systems a new employee must master, etc. Also, consider embedding your Culture Directory ( in your intranet to remind new employees (and all the rest of your employees) about all the ways you invest in employees and the things that matter to them.

That all being said, let’s end with a lesson from Zappos. As you may know, at the end of a robust onboarding program, Zappos offers new employees a cash incentive to quit. Now that a new employee has a pretty good handle on what it’s like to work for Zappos, the company doesn’t want to waste any more resources on an employee who doesn’t want to be there. So the ideal approach to welcoming and onboarding new employees ensures you retain the right employees, and lose the wrong ones as quickly and painlessly as possible.

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