Driving employee engagement starts with good first impressions
Welcome to your first day on the job
Imagine your first day at a new job; you are excited and ready to show your best. You enter the door full of anticipation. However, there is no one to meet you. You start looking around and asking for your contact person. When you find him, he tells you to wait 5 minutes. After 15 awkward minutes, where you don’t know what to do with yourself, he comes and shows you to your desk. The desk is empty, except for three old coffee stains (with crust). He gives you the phone number to IT and a binder with an introduction to the company. He says he’ll be back to ‘catch up’ later today. Sitting at your new desk, your initial excitement is completely gone and not a tiny bit of you feel the urge to do your best.
|The initial impressions heavily influence the newcomers’ engagement and motivation for the job|
Even though this example puts everything on edge, it very well illustrates how important a proper welcome is when you start on a new job – whether you are a seafarer visiting the new office for the first time, or a shore-based office employee starting in a new shipping office, or a crew member embarking on a new vessel. The initial impressions heavily influence the newcomers’ engagement and motivation for the job.
In the shipping industry we sometimes experience that newcomers’ first day on board or in the office and the following induction period are poorly structured, full of waiting and awkward situations. However, providing a proper welcome and induction is not only an issue in the shipping industry, research shows that this is an issue in many other industries. Therefore, we want to look at the effects and give a few tips as to what can be done.
Employee engagement needs to be cultivated from the very beginning
Providing a proper welcome and induction process may seem to be time consuming and at times challenging. Therefore, it is not uncommon for companies to make the faulty, though convenient, assumption that the first day on the job and subsequent induction process only represents a small, insignificant part of the employees’ experience of their workplace. They could not be more wrong.
|The first day is an important window of opportunity|
Employees start forming opinions and relationships with the company from the very start. The first day is an important window of opportunity, where the company can show the newcomer that they are excited and willing to invest the time to welcome them and get them off to a good start.
|The impression of the company culture indirectly forms the newcomer’s expectations towards his own contribution to this culture|
In addition, the kind of welcome the company offers the newcomer also gives an impression of the company culture – whether this is a relaxed, busy, unstructured, high performing (or??) culture. The impression of the company culture indirectly forms the newcomer’s expectations towards his own contribution to this culture.
Therefore, a good start will make the newcomer develop feelings of belonging and a sense of purpose, and consequently start cultivating engagement from the very beginning.
Engaged employees perform better and are more safety minded
Recent studies show that the employees’ feeling of engagement is very important: Engaged employees perform better, contribute positively to the workplace atmosphere and stay with the company for a longer time.
In addition to this, engaged employees are also more safety minded, which is very important in the maritime industry; when new employees feel engaged, they become more mindful of their surroundings, the safety procedures and they take better care of their colleagues.
|Efforts made to give them a positive experience of their workplace from the start are well worth the investment|
Seen in both an HR perspective and a financial perspective, efforts made to engage employees and give them a positive experience of their workplace from the day they start are well worth the investment.
First impressions influence newcomers’ opinion of the company
To better understand the mechanisms at play in the very first days, the Halo and Horn effect can be of help.
The Halo- and Horn-effects are so-called cognitive biases, meaning the brain subconsciously pull a trick on itself. In both instances, the newcomers’ opinion of the company – at least for some time ahead – is based primarily on the first impression, which is formed on experiences gathered on the very first days on the job.
When newcomers with a good first impression assess the whole company to be a good place to work, the Halo effect might be at play. Whereas, newcomers affected by the Horn effect assess the whole company to be bad because they got a poor first impression.
Both the Halo and Horn effect influence the newcomers’ opinion and relationship with the company even in the long run: Subconsciously newcomers tend to protect their initial impression of the company. They do this by simply ignoring experiences and opinions that contradict their immediate impression. A newcomer affected by the Halo effect will therefore downplay following negative experiences of the company, whereas Horn-affected newcomers turn the blind eye to following positive experiences.
Therefore, it is very important to create the best basis for the Halo effect by making the newcomers feel welcomed and appreciated on the first day of the job. But even though it sounds easy, there are still challenges for the employees and leaders to consider.
I want to welcome you, but I don’t really have the time
When we are consulting companies in their induction processes, we often get the sense that employees are in a dilemma: Even though they want to welcome the newcomer (or at least know that they should welcome them), they don’t feel they have the time.
|The employees come to see the newcomer as an inconvenient ‘time robber’ rather than a new member of the family/company|
This very often results in a ‘push the problem to the next desk/colleague’ attitude: Employees push the task of welcoming and/or inducting newcomers around until someone finally agrees to do it. This is a very unfortunate dynamic, as the employees come to see the newcomer as an inconvenient ‘time robber’ rather than a new member of the family/company.
A way to overcome this unfortunate dynamic and approach to newcomers is for the top management to set a clear direction for how new employees are received. Hereby, it can be avoided that employees are unsure of the amount of time they should spend on the newcomers and how they should prioritise the induction compared to their usual tasks.
|It is vital that top management team clearly communicates its expectations|
Therefore, it is vital that top management team clearly communicates its expectations: For example, that employees should prioritise newcomers and take the time to welcome, help and induct them. To support this, concrete tools and methods can be applied, for example a social buddy arrangement, structured induction plans, welcome guidelines, etc.
Coffee stains matter
What becomes evident is that all ‘the little things’ matter in the first days on the job: Being welcomed at the door matters, immediate attention matters, having a desk wiped clean of coffee stains matters.
In short, it is important that companies acknowledge the importance of the little things that forms the newcomers’ experience of the company. Spending time and resources on getting everything in place for a proper first day on the job is well worth the effort.
Below you will find 10 inspirational pointers on small significant things that can contribute to a good start in the company:
- Have the contact person meet the newcomer at the entrance
- If there are telescreens in the office, insert a message: A warm welcome to the company to (insert name of the new employee)
- Ensure that a computer, login details, email account, and desk interior are in place
- Have business cards ready on the table
- Plan 1-1 sessions with the closest colleagues and the immediate leader
- Schedule brief meeting (or lunch) with a relevant leader, for example the leader of the department, or possibly the CEO
- When meeting a newcomer, introduce yourself, your position and the department and welcome them to the company in general
- As much as possible, include/invite the newcomer to social events/gatherings at the workplace
- Take your time to so some small talk with the newcomer about things that are not related to the job
- Join the newcomer for lunch
In the shipping company, the majority of newcomers are crew embarking on new vessels. Now that we know how important the first impression is and how the Halo and Horn effects work, take a moment to think about what you think could be done on board to make newcomers feel properly welcomed.