I’ve met everyone in my new office and already forgotten most of their names. I’ve been shown the kitchen and bathroom, the photocopier, and even where the fire escapes are. Now I’m sitting at my new desk, looking at a big blue ring-binder folder with a Brother P-Touch label on it that says INDUCTION.
Inside are 70-odd pages of photocopied policies on things like bullying in the workplace (don’t do it), interstate travel guidelines (cost code 1-803-7229) and a brochure from an external HR company offering assistance in the event I’m concerned about my mental health. I learn that the organisation’s values are honesty, trust, innovation, and resilience, which surely sets them apart from all those other organisations who don’t care if you’re a vulnerable, uninspiring, treacherous liar.
I’m even invited to complete a 20-minute online elearning course, which is a bunch of comic-style cartoons – featuring someone being bullied at work – with a multiple-choice quiz at the end asking me whether it’s true or false that bullying in the workplace is okay.
I score 100 per cent.
At lunchtime the boss asks me if I have any questions. I don’t. Or rather, I might, if I knew more about what the hell is going on. I just presume I’ll pick it up eventually and so does everyone else.
In most offices I’ve seen, induction and onboarding (there’s a difference in those terms, apparently – I read it in an HR manual) fail to address the simple question of, “What does the new guy really need to know?” Instead they tend to answer a completely different question, which is, “Do we have an induction manual?” to which the answer is yes, so everyone is happy, in particular the HR department.
There’s no excuse for ignoring the needs of your new starters and lumping them with a pile of useless reading to do.. In my book it’s only polite to help someone to the best of your ability to become familiar with their new environment and how it works. Sure, a well-meaning boss might explain how she sees the world, then the guy who runs the warehouse might explain the supply chain logistics … but you know what? On day one I ain’t really listening – there’s enough going on in my head already (nod, look thoughtful, take a sharp breath in to appear like you’re about to ask a question, then stop yourself because you’re internally processing the information for later digestion and the question can wait, not because you’re baffled and can’t think of anything intelligent to say, or maybe that’s just me).
In any case, the art of explanation ain’t everyone’s gift. When faced with the job of telling you how things tick, most people will happily impart what they know, not what you need to know.
The result tends to be that new starters pick up speed very slowly. They don’t want to ask stupid questions because they suspect someone already explained the issue to them on day one, or the solution lies on page 47 of the induction manual and it mustn’t have sunk in. They muddle through and gradually, eventually, learn the ins and outs by trial and error, along the way frequently experiencing those little moments of anxiety that tell you you’re a complete fraud and don’t deserve to be here because you don’t know what an ICBM is.
And if you are brave enough to ask, that’s someone else’s time you’re commanding, as they help you sort it out. There are, of course, plenty of people who do ask, with others’ time continually lost as they’re obliged to help the newbies again and again and again.
There is no one-size-fits-all method to induct a new employee. You’ll find plenty of advice online on how to handle it, with tips like sharing a one-on-one with the CEO, taking a guided tour of the workplace, and practical demonstrations of products and/or services. But new starters need specific, actionable direction and easy-to-find instructions on how to do their job.
The solution? A brief induction manual – no more than a dozen pages – of basic information like what the organisation does, who you’ll be working with, how the pay system works, how much leave you’re entitled to, how the intranet works. You coud even make it available before the first day of work, to make the new starter feel more comfortable about their first day – and make a great first impression at the same time.
Back that up with well curated, well written instructional guides on how to do the day-to-day tasks associated with the job and you’ll realise greater consistency, less wasted time and happier staff across the board.
Serious stories about communication
told in a silly voice.
I dig a little deeper than most comms folk. From science at university, to a cold-and-wet career as a commercial diver, to working underground, and for the past 17 years as a communicator-at-large, I've had my fair share of weird experiences in all sorts of situations. It's given me a fair-to-middling grounding in all things explanatory.