Here in the South, our kiddos are heading back to school. In their brand-new outfits and backpacks full of school supplies, they are venturing into another year of the unknown. By the end of the day, they’ll be creating patterns that will repeat throughout the rest of the school year.

Those days are long gone for most of us, but when you stop to think about it, the experience of your first day at a new job is not all that different from the experience of your first day at school: new faces, new rules, and new patterns.

As business owners, we should take a hard look at our onboarding processes, keeping in mind how the first day of school can be a model for what the first day of work could look like.

Expectations Are Explained on Day One

At school, teachers often hang the rules of the classroom on the wall. The rules are clear and easy to follow, and the teacher always takes time to break them down and make sure the kids understand them.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times my first day of starting a new job looked like this:

  1. Show up early to make a good impression
  2. Get greeted by a very distressed boss who didn’t know what to do with me
  3. Shown where to put my lunch, where to park, and where to sit
  4. Read the employee handbook and fill out employment paperwork
  5. Sometimes I would start to shadow on the first day, but not very often

That was my typical welcome to a new position with a new company. I’d have to ask where the restrooms were, how to clock in and out, and for any other vital information that was left out of the official onboarding. The day was always a letdown that dragged on and on.

The problem with this type of orientation is that it makes the new employee feel like a burden. I never felt comfortable asking questions because I didn’t know where to start. All I had to go by was an outdated job description that I would be told “really isn’t how we do things anymore.” This kind of onboarding always made me second-guess my decision to work for my new employer. Soon, I was on the hunt again, applying to new jobs in search of a better environment.

Another scenario I have encountered: I would apply for a certain position, and once I was hired, everything would change. My responsibilities were different. It would seem like the employers didn’t know what they were doing when hiring me. I’ve had jobs where I got paid a lot of money to do nothing. I’ve had jobs where my primary responsibility seemed to be busy work.

Which brings me to my next point:

Everyone Has to Be on the Same Page

The whole department has to agree that the newbie should be involved. I remember having to beg coworkers to let me shadow them or help with things. I was usually turned away, unable to get the training I needed because people were unwilling to share the workload.

I’ve always believed that knowledge is only good when you share it. Otherwise, what’s the point of having it? When team members are not playing the game, then good players get left out. Translation: Everyone has to talk about what the new person will do — and then actually do it. We can plan all day, but if we don’t execute our plans, they’re useless.

If you suspect you have an employee who is resistant to change or refuses to delegate, try addressing them in a way that makes them feel powerful. Ask them to list tasks they don’t like to do or don’t feel as confident in doing. We’re all good at some things, but not everything. Let the employee tell you what a new employee could do and go from there. It makes for a much less hostile situation. When people feel threatened, they withhold information and want the new person to fail.

Never assume that because you told someone to do something, it is done. Keep an open line of communication with your new employee and others on their team to see that things are getting done. Ask the new employee what they are learning. Answer the questions they may have about processes and procedures. If the employee has a buddy or mentor, talk to them separately to get their take on how the new employee is doing. Keep from gossiping about the newbie. That’s just plain tacky. Instead, ask specific questions about how the training is going.

How to Stand Out as an Amazing Employer From the First Day

You never want a new employee to leave feeling disappointed on their first day. Here are some small but very impactful things you can do to make a newbie feel important:

  1. Have their desk ready for them when they arrive. Set up any technology they may need prior to the first day. Make sure the employee has access to log in to any systems they’ll need. Basic office supplies should be at the desk as well. I’ve had to use my own supplies on the first day because there were no sticky notes, notepads, or pens available for me. Fortunately, I came prepared, but it definitely made me less excited to be there.
  2. If you use the buddy system, create the training outline before the first day. Making it up as you go is a terrible way to do things.
  3. Do something fun like get breakfast or go out to lunch. It’s a great way to put the new employee at ease, and it fosters relationships between the new hire and their colleagues.
  4. Announce the new employee. Send an email out to the company and introduce the employee. It is a small gesture, but a very powerful one. People will respond and create an even more welcoming environment.

In the end, you want a new employee to feel needed and wanted. It is up to you how the first day looks, but the day makes all the difference. For the best possible onboarding experience, see what your kids’ teachers are doing.

Jen Teague comes from a world filled with human resources, overanalyzing, and most importantly, recruiting and onboarding. With almost 20 years of experience, she helps small and growing businesses create and implement their own hiring practices. 

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