Three ways for leaders to help new employees thrive

New employees don’t know what they don’t know. Helena Cooper-Thomas offers ideas on how organisations can help their new people get up to speed quickly.

How can you help your organisation’s newbies get up to speed in the first three months and become productive, engaged, and contributing employees?

It may seem obvious that managers need to provide information to new employees about their responsibilities, but simple things often get taken for granted or overlooked, leaving new employees uninformed about what is expected of them and unsure about who to ask.

… a new employee recounted being reprimanded by his supervisor for taking excessively long breaks and only then having the opportunity to ask where to find the break schedule…

For example, in my recent research, a new employee recounted being reprimanded by his supervisor for taking excessively long breaks and only then having the opportunity to ask where to find the break schedule so he could learn what was required.

Such negative early experiences are easily avoided.

Managers can identify the specific information new employees need to get up to speed, and provide this key information at the outset, including an orientation to the workspace, health and safety protocols, break facilities or schedules, and immediate responsibilities.

Helena Cooper-Thomas.

By understanding the work expectations—how, where, and when—new employees can immediately start performing and contributing to the workplace. It’s also important to provide fast feedback so new employees know what they are doing well and can correct any errors before they become problematic.

In line with this, new employees in my research noted they valued feedback and felt acknowledged and respected when their new colleagues commented on the quality of their work.

Help new employees develop connections

It’s important to support new employees in building relationships with colleagues. Since the 1970s, research has consistently shown the importance of these relationships for new employees’ wellbeing and performance.

Experienced colleagues who feel connected to the new employee will share workplace “shortcuts”.

An example from healthcare shows experienced radiologists who, if they felt a connection with the new employee in their unit, shared information about the preferences and personalities of doctors they worked with. This knowledge-sharing helped create constructive working relationships, enabling the new radiologist to tailor how they communicated with the doctors who, in turn, viewed the newcomer as more competent.

New employees who fail to develop connections with their established colleagues are likely to feel isolated and struggle to figure out how to do their work effectively, to the detriment of the new employee, their manager, and the organisation.

To help develop these key relationships, experienced colleagues might invite new employees to join them during breaks or ask about their hobbies or leisure activities. Finding areas of commonality is a good basis for connections.

Workplace small talk is also linked with positive emotions, end-of-day wellbeing and citizenship behaviours (such as volunteering beyond one’s responsibilities). Simple gestures that welcome new employees go a long way.

Encourage new employees to identify how they can uniquely contribute

Many New Zealand organisations have few resources to put into formal onboarding processes, so what’s an alternative?

A study comparing different kinds of orientation practices found inductions that invited new employees to reflect how to bring their “best selves” to work and then discuss this with their colleagues was associated with higher customer satisfaction and employee retention compared to a more traditional induction or even no induction.

To achieve such a “best self-induction” managers can encourage new employees to think about how they can best contribute their skills and abilities, and then take the time to listen to their insights.

Managers of new employees can then think about how to make best use of new employees’ skills and abilities. For example, a new employee who speaks a language common to one group of customers can be assigned accordingly, or a new employee who has expertise with specific software can help in its implementation.

Taking the time to work with new employees to understand what they uniquely bring enables new employees to feel valued, and the organisation to fully benefit from the new hire.

Getting new employees up to speed takes effort. But by investing the time to get newbies on the right work path from outset, you are building a strong foundation that is likely to result in employees who are committed and productive, and who contribute to, and stay, with the organisation.


Professor Helena Cooper-Thomas is an HR Management expert at AUT Business School

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