Workers’ Day: integrating new employees

Employee engagementIt was Workers’ day last week – or May Day as it is known elsewhere. A day for workers to take it easy, ignore their work and do their own thing. Of course, the cynical among us might say, ‘Isn’t that what they do every day?’

If that is the case, we have to ask what we as managers, supervisors or business owners are doing about it. Someone said we get the employees we deserve. That is not always true, but most of us could and should do far more to engage employees and focus their energies and efforts.

Hiring the right people is critical, of course, but once we have them, what can we do to ensure they are ready, focussed and enthusiastic from day one?

The first and most important step is to let them know that they belong and that their contribution is important and valued. Some will say this isn’t a club; employees are here to work, not to be indulged and pampered. But we are not robots. The sooner new employees meet their colleagues, find their place among them and understand their role in the wider organisation, the sooner they will produce their best work in support of the group.

Job level
There are two levels at which such integration takes place. The first is at the job, section or department level. We usually tell new employees the obvious things about the job – where their desk or workbench is and to whom they report. We often forget the ‘small’ things that have a big impact on an employee’s sense of belonging – where are the toilets? What time is lunch, and what usually happens during lunch and tea? I have found new employees sitting shyly on their own during the lunch break because no one told them that everyone meets out on the deck.

Introduce employees to people in the organisation who are significant for their position. Their colleagues, of course, but let them also meet their suppliers and customers, whether internal or external. And what are the key deliverables for their job and for the department as a whole?

I remember a friend describing how she explained to a new gardener the responsibilities of his position. Instead of the usual, ‘Keep the garden neat and tidy, plant, weed, trim etc.’ she said, ‘Whatever you do, I want everyone who visits to say, “Wow! Who keeps your garden so beautiful?”’ An employee already knows how to do the tasks required (planting, weeding, trimming), but what are the key deliverables? What is the ‘wow’ factor in this position?

Company level
Integration must also take place at the company level. How does this position fit into the bigger scheme of things? Do I matter? How does my job help achieve the company’s vision, and objectives? Does the CEO care or even know that I have joined the organisation?

Here we help employees relate their own work to company goals and objectives.  If they are able to make that connection, their sense of pride, desire to make a difference and willingness to work harder for the good of the organisation, will produce significant results. Without it, they will simply do the job you employed them to do; they will not reach higher or know where to focus.

You may have heard the following story in one of its many forms. Some workmen were making cement blocks. They were asked what they were doing. Instead of the obvious, ‘We’re making cement blocks,’ they replied, ‘We’re building a cathedral.’

If you are satisfied with employees merely fulfilling their job descriptions, then pride and engagement are not important. But you will not achieve greatness, and your organisational goals will remain mere dreams on boardroom walls. If you want your employees to shine – to become better than normal – help them engage, and give them a reason to be proud of where they work, what they do and who they do it with.

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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