You know when you are at a party and you don’t know anyone else there? You kind of hover on the outskirts of a group with a gormless smile on your face. Pretending you understand all the in jokes and banter?
Or maybe, after a couple of awkward attempts at getting to know people, you stand in the corner on your own. Looking busy on your phone. You know people think you are probably being ‘stand offish’ but it’s the least painful option until it is time to go home.
It is not a great feeling, right?
It can feel exactly the same when you start a new job.
In the second part of the ‘7 Faces of Your New Hire’ series, I look at how to make your new hire feel less awkward in those first few critical weeks.
It sounds so simple. And it should be.
But it still happens. And I believe that is because too many assumptions are made.
‘I have a really friendly team that will make him feel welcome’
‘He seems a chatty kind of guy. He will get to know people’
‘He’ll figure out how things work around here soon enough’
But it doesn’t always happen like that, does it? Not without a little help at least.
Just like a good party host, you need to actively find ways to make the new person feel welcome. To reduce that feeling of awkwardness in a place he is not familiar with, surrounded by people he doesn’t know.
The Three Reasons He Is Looking Awkward
There are three main reasons your new hire has that uncomfortable, ‘rather be anywhere else’ look on his face.
- He doesn’t know anyone
- No one knows who he is
- He doesn’t know how things work around here
Let’s dive into all three and see how you can avoid them happening.
He Doesn’t Know Anyone
Our new hire, let’s call him Jack, turns up on his first day. As he is shown to his new desk, his manager points at people and throws out names that he, of course, promptly forgets. He then sits at his desk until his manager finishes his next meeting, trying to make eye contact with his office mates.
Let’s say Jack’s day gets better. He does meet up with his colleagues for lunch on day one. That’s great, and, without doubt, a first day essential.
But for the rest of the week, he finds himself eating at his desk on his own because everyone disappears off to lunch in pairs and he is not included.
Or maybe he is sitting alone in the lunch area. There might be a nod and a quick hi but there is no one to do the introductions and it is just AWKWARD.
Do you remember that day you fell out with your mates at school and had to sit on your own with your packed lunch and everyone stared?
Yep, just like that.
Don’t let it happen
How to avoid this
- Kick off the social stuff before he starts. Why not invite him to join you and the team for lunch or a few drinks before his first day?
- Even if you do the team lunch on day one (you should, by the way), don’t just leave it there. Arrange for different people to lunch with your new hire each day for the first week. Sometimes small groups are easier than individuals to keep the conversation flowing.
- How about getting together with other departments and organising for each one to host a lunch for all new hires once a month. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it can be a ‘bring your own lunch’ session. The aim is to give new hires the chance to informally meet members of other teams and find out what they do.
- Going forward, set up 30 minute meet and greets over the first few weeks with key members of the teams he will be interacting with. Click here for a repeatable system that you can set up once and use for all your new hires
People Don’t Know Who He Is
Picture these two scenarios
Jack looks up to see a lady approaching his desk. The lady, with a firm handshake and a big smile, welcomes Jack by name. She introduces herself, helps Jack understand how they will work together and lets him know where to find her if he needs anything.
Jack looks up to see three people huddled together while throwing questioning glances in his direction. He works out that they are just trying to figure out who he is.
You may be reading this and thinking ‘well, he should have the nerve to introduce himself.’ But not everyone is made that way. Some people will proactively do just that. But they shouldn’t have to do that with everyone, should they?
How to avoid this
There is a five minute solution to this.
- A simple start to making sure Jack is in the middle of scenario 1 rather than scenario 2 is in the communication. Give an update in the team meeting or an email before he starts to let people know when he is arriving, his role and a reminder for them to go and say hi.
- As well as updating your immediate team, include the departments he will be working with in that communication. Copy him in on any emails to make him feel welcome.
- Follow this up with an email on his first day welcoming him onboard and letting people know where to find him.
- When you introduce him on his arrival, remember there is more to Jack than just his work history. By including some personal information about him, people will find it easier to strike up a conversation. So as well as the standard ‘This is Jack, he joins us from ABC Marketing and he is going to be our Event Manager.’ How about adding ‘he has just moved to London from South Africa and he is a keen cyclist’
He Doesn’t Know How Things Work Around Here
- He’s been drinking tea all week because he can’t figure out how the coffee machine works. (He discovered on day two that he needed to bring his own mug after a frosty conversation with the owner of the Disney mug he had been using).
- He doesn’t know the office location well and can’t find anywhere decent to grab a sandwich.
- He doesn’t know who to contact when he can’t print from his laptop.
- He has an email that he has to action which he doesn’t understand. It is littered with acronyms and jargon. He really doesn’t want to ask you for help because maybe he should already know this stuff.
It’s not just the job you have to figure out, it is everything around it. And these small things can take so much energy and effort away from actually getting up to speed on the job. And to keep asking questions, about what you feel is small, stupid stuff can be embarrassing.
How to avoid this
- Assign him a buddy with the sole purpose of answering the ‘stupid’ questions. He won’t want to ask you, his boss, because he wants you to think he is impressive and smart. This should be someone who is on the same level as him. Ideally someone who remembers what it feels like to be the new guy in your company.
Now, a lot of companies already do the ‘buddy’ thing. But make sure you are not making assumptions here either. Does your buddy know what he needs to do? This relationship works really well if it is more proactive than reactive. Sure, as a new hire, it is great to have someone to go to answer questions. But what if that person wanders over to your desk once a day, or drops you a quick skype message to check you are doing ok. That is pretty powerful.
(More ideas about the ‘buddy’ role will be included in the Onboarding checklist that is published at the end of this series. Don’t want to miss it? Click here if you would like it sent directly to you)
- Kick off a shared document for each new hire to add to. This should be the list of questions they had and the answers to help future new hires coming on board. You should also start up a glossary of all the acronyms and jargon you use.
- Plan out all the other information that you could share electronically to help your new hire out. This might include…
- A page with everyone’s names, job title and photos.
- The key phone numbers and email addresses he will need
- Local area information
- A ‘What to do if,,,,’ page for things like IT struggles or problems setting up his phone.
Turn Your Best Intentions Into Actions
Starting a new job scores pretty high on the vulnerability scale. Jack has come from a job where he knew everybody, he could do his job and he didn’t have to do three laps around the building to find the right meeting room.
Feeling vulnerable can spike lots of other emotions. The new and unknown can make even the most confident person feel awkward at times.
By anticipating your new hire will feel this way means that you can actively reduce those levels of discomfort.
I have no doubt you want your new hire to feel welcome and supported. But intentions have to be followed by actions to make a difference.
This is part two of the series. If you missed part one -what to do when your new hire is unimpressed – you can read it here
Don’t want to miss any of the series? Sign up here and you’ll get them in your inbox as soon as they are published. You will also get the checklist for an onboarding experience that will make your new hires look like they have just won the lottery!