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Supervisors are crucial in socializing new employees during onboarding

July 2, 2024
By Lucas Dufour, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Meena Andiappan, McMaster University


Credit: Getty Images/ fizkes.

Starting a new job can be daunting. New employees are often worried about how they should behave at work and what they should do when they join a new company.

Workers generally have a lot to learn in terms of company policies, procedures and regulations — not to mention the unwritten rules and norms that are often critical for success. All of this can be overwhelming.

New employees are often uncomfortable asking questions of their supervisors and peers for fear of being viewed as ignorant or incompetent.

Compounding this issue is the fact that, in recent years, remote work has reduced the number of face-to-face interactions employees have. These interactions are important for understanding workplace norms and expectations. Employees who don’t experience them, or have fewer of these experiences, are put at a disadvantage.

All these hurdles can leave new employees feeling isolated and unsure about how to navigate their new environment effectively.

Supervisors are crucial to success

When individuals start a new job, the first six months they spend at a new firm — also called the “socialization phase” — are absolutely crucial.

Studies suggest this period often determines how quickly employees learn how to do their job, how well they perform, their job satisfaction and, ultimately, how long they will stay at the organization.

Despite recent research showing the crucial impact of supervisors in the success of new employees’ onboarding, newcomers are often left on their own to figure out how they can get the attention and support they need to succeed in their new environment.

Given these barriers, many workers end up adopting a passive approach to fitting in and tend to do exactly — and only — what they are told to do. However, our recent research demonstrates that supervisors expect newcomers to take a proactive attitude, rather than a passive one, if they want support.

Don’t be afraid to stand out

Our research suggests that supervisors expect newcomers to challenge the organization’s functioning and to stand out, rather than solely trying to adjust their behaviours and not disturb the status quo.

Supervisors expected to see newcomers manifest this behaviour through two particular methods: first, by proposing useful new ideas and second, by highlighting their achievements.

In our study of 325 employees and supervisors across a wide range of industries and company size, we consistently found that newcomers were expected to provide innovative ideas. However, it was the quality of the idea and its feasibility, rather than the sheer number of ideas, that was important.

We found that supervisors responded positively when new employees proposed ideas they considered relevant and achievable. Supervisors don’t want newcomers to revolutionize everything, but to provide a new lens. For example, newcomers suggested ways to use digital marketing to target new customer segments, while others found new ways to automate employee expense reimbursement processes.

Supervisors were much more likely to help newcomers to implement these kinds of ideas. Subsequently, supervisors were also more likely to support these new hires throughout the socialization process.

Communicating accomplishments

Another important finding for newcomers was the importance of communicating their accomplishments. Supervisors generally have limited time and attention to devote to new employees. In order to get credit for their work and gain visibility, newcomers did best when they actively highlighted their accomplishments to their superiors.

For example, in our study, successful newcomers gained their manager’s attention by treating each of their workplace “wins” (for example, securing a new client, finishing a project ahead of deadline) as an opportunity to communicate their accomplishments. Newcomers shared this news with their managers either through email or, ideally, through in-person conversations.

Our study found that newcomers who engage in feasible idea generation and self-promotion were not only more likely to receive supervisor support, but were also more likely to be offered a permanent position.

Passivity can be detrimental

Lastly, we also found that being passive not only prevents newcomers from gaining helpful supervisor support, but also spurs additional detrimental consequences.

Interestingly, supervisors often viewed newcomers who failed to promote themselves as needing excessive guidance. However, the guidance provided by supervisors in this case tended to be overly directive. Ironically this over-support resulted in worse socialization outcomes: lower performance, higher stress and lower overall job satisfaction for the new employee.

Taken together, our findings suggest that new hires shouldn’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd — speaking up about actionable ideas and their own value to the firm — which can help draw in the right kind of support to ensure their future career success.

While starting a new job can be intimidating, our research offers suggestions that can alleviate some of the anxiety of being a newcomer and set new employees up for success in their new workplaces.

Lucas Dufour is an assistant professor of human resources management and organizational behaviour at Toronto Metropolitan University. 

Meena Andiappan is an associate professor of human resources and mangement at McMaster University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.


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