During the pandemic, it is particularly challenging to be a new employee.
At the same time, employers have only one chance to give the dream candidate a successful “boarding” - help to become a full member of the workforce.
Fresh research we have done in the field shows which mistakes leaders and colleagues should avoid making towards their new employees in these days.
Afraid of failing
Sociologists have long told us that it is anxiety-provoking to be new in the workplace. The new ones are afraid of failing with their tasks and of not being included.
Transforming new employees from outsiders to full members of a company/institution or team is also called “onboarding” in Norwegian.
But when everyday life is hybrid, that is, some people are at home and some are in the office, the rules of the game change. What does it take for people to feel safe, included, and thus value creators?
Often feel stupid
Much research has been done on this, but not in the hybrid everyday life. We at Sintef and Knowit have now studied the “boarding”/organizational socialization of IT developers in three public organizations during the pandemic.
We see that the new ones do not know what they do not know and that it is difficult for them to feel their way to good role understandings from the home office chair.
Normally, they would interpret their way to such an understanding by asking questions in informal colleague conversations. When they instead have to use channels like Teams and Slack, they often feel stupid since they cannot ask for help.
They are also afraid that “stupid” questions will remain in the chat log forever.
Here are three recommendations
Based on our study, we have developed three specific recommendations for those of you who receive new employees, but also for you as a newcomer.
- Avoid new employees burning with questions. Help them formulate questions through conversation rather than chat.
- Avoid one-sided use of digital contact. Prioritize physical meetings as much as possible during the “boarding” process. This creates a sense of inclusion and belonging.
- Avoid being too formal. Use informal conversations and accommodate different needs so that they understand what role they can take.
Our study is under work and therefore not yet published. But we believe the findings are so relevant that we want to share them now.
Provide opportunity for questions
We see that the most important thing to succeed with “boarding” is to give new employees the opportunity to ask questions, plus ensure that they receive feedback from colleagues.
This way, the new ones are able to secure the help they themselves feel they need.
At the same time, the chance of new employees quickly becoming productive and contributing to the team around them increases.
Not as easy to hang out in the meeting room
If people understand their own role, it is an important indication of successful “boarding”/socialization and whether people enjoy their job.
Interaction with others is the way to lead to a good role understanding. A role contains more than a formal description, and employees take on different roles in different teams and different settings.
Traditionally, newcomers often hang out in the meeting room after the meeting to explore the others around them. For example, they ask what others like to work with, how others like to work, or what expectations others have.
This is how they find out what role they can fill in the team to contribute. Here they also pick up the “unwritten rules” in the team. In a hybrid everyday life, this opportunity to hang out in the meeting room often disappears.
Calling new employees
To remedy this, many try to have an informal chat in digital meetings, which is often perceived as awkward.
Previous research on projects that work a lot virtually shows that frequent meetings are fruitful when project teams are established. This builds a common role understanding among team members. This also seems to apply when teams get new members.
Leaders today find it difficult to read the signals of the new ones. Before, they could “see” if new employees were stuck with a task and then support them without the new ones explicitly asking for help.
Several leaders have therefore developed a new strategy: They call new employees “to hear how it’s going”.
Informal conversation without an agenda
This opens up an informal conversation without an agenda. Here, the new ones can speak freely and send out signals that the leaders pick up. This naturally requires more of leaders and was something they previously got “for free” through life in the office.
As Norway now goes through a new shutdown, it is more important than ever to learn from the “hybrid experiences” the country has gained since the start of the pandemic.
Not least, this applies to the question of how to create psychological safety for new employees - a prerequisite that must be met for new employees to be able to contribute to innovation and new creation.
The article was first published in Dagens Næringsliv on January 10, 2022 and is reproduced here with DN’s permission.