Foreword by Pam
I often joke about Human Resources people being the worst at HR – but when my friend told me the story about her orientation in her new HR role, I was flabbergasted at how terrible it was. Talk about employee disengagement! I asked her to share it with you – here’s her story and the lessons we can take from it. I’d love to hear about your orientation horror stories as well – please share in the comments or on my Facebook page.
Orientation for Employee Disengagement
Recently, a company hired me into their Human Resources department. I was suddenly a new employee, a position I had not been in for nearly 5 years. In my positions as an HR Generalist, my role has been to organize the on-boarding process and in many cases spend the first day with the new hires. When I started my new position, I was interested to see how another organization went about their process. If you would like a disengaged, angry employee from Day One, follow these steps!
1. Don’t have anyone greet the employee
On my first day I arrived at the front door and called my new Director’s extension only to be met with no answer. I waited a moment and called back to see if she was there. There was still no answer. Finally after waiting several minutes and wondering what to do, my new coworker opened the door. She was on her way to the coffee maker and happened to see me. My new boss hadn’t arrived yet.
Within the first 5 minutes of employment, I felt forgotten or not worth mentioning to anyone. It would have been nice to have been expected and been greeted by someone who knew what to do with me. If you want your employee’s very first impression of their new job to be a good one, make sure someone is put in charge of greeting them, getting them in the door and making them feel like they are wanted.
2. Be sure to leave their office or desk full of clutter, chewed pens and scribble notes
After my new coworker let me in the building, she showed me to my new office. Much to my dismay, the desk was covered in paper, files, old mail and general clutter. Not to mention the piles of filing, binders and boxes that were stacked in all corners of the room. I was horrified! They hadn’t even bothered to make my desk look like the old occupant had left.
Later on in the day I went through its contents and discovered that the desk drawers were filled with old soy sauce packets, chewed pens, sticky notes with hairdresser appointments on them and old notebooks.
Taking the time to make a person’s new desk space look clean and feel new goes a long way to making a new employee feel like they matter and are starting fresh.
(Side note from Pam: Go beyond cleaning their desk – make sure their name plate is ready – maybe even surprise them with a card welcoming them to your team!)
3. Tell them how quickly they can be terminated
The VP of Operations stopped by my office on my first day and commented on the last full time employee that had been in my position. I was told that the last HR person didn’t do things his way, “and you either do things his way or, well, you don’t work here anymore”. Needless to say, I am aware of how easily it is to terminate someone in his or her probationary period, but making a point of saying it on my first day was astonishing to me.
I had been forgotten, I was now in an office covered in someone else’s clutter and I was just given a thinly veiled warning about how I had better tow the VP’s line or risk losing my job. It was barely 2pm in the afternoon and I was shocked, disgusted and wondering how I could have ended up here.
All employees, particularly those not in their first job, are well aware of probationary periods. Employees are also generally eager to learn and do a good job when they first start with a company. Positively reinforcing how excited you are to have someone join your team and giving them positive messages of how you wish for tasks to be done is the best way to keep someone interested and excited to be there.
4. Do not give them a new hire package or tell them about the policies and procedures of the company
I was told that because I would eventually be assembling the new hire packages, I might as well start on my first day. So I was not given a proper new hire package. Rather I was given a few forms and shown the drawer to pull all the information from. Once again, I felt like an inconvenience and a bother to my new Director.
I was also unsure of what I needed to have for my new hire package. I didn’t know if I had completed the proper forms or who to return them to. And I didn’t learn what goes in a package, so my first time assembling the package for another employee required help. I was also not given any policies or told where to find them. As a result, after a few months in, I am still learning about where to direct employees.
If you do not have a formal new hire package for employees, it’s worth investing in. And if you are going to invest in it, hand it out. Even to the person that will be in charge. Not only are you sure that your new employee has all the required forms, you’re also certain that you’ve given them some knowledge about the company they will be working for.
5. Share with your new hire how poor the performance of the last person was – repeatedly for best results
My predecessor left a bad taste in my Director’s mouth. Whether the reputation was earned or not, my boss did not like him. And she told me so several times a day. There were comments such as “I never could get Mr. X to do this” or “Mr. X just couldn’t seem to get past step 1”. Not only was it rude and unprofessional, but it made me wonder what she would say about me. I felt uncomfortable and never knew what to respond to those comments with.
If your former employee was terminated or quit on poor terms, don’t share that and your opinions with your new hire. The new employee will hear things from the rumour mill in due time, but as their manager, you should refrain from making comments. It reflects poorly on you to be running down a former employee. Instead, refer to the employee in neutral terms, such as “Mr. X left the filing in that drawer over there.” The new employee will figure out that if there was a 3 foot stack of papers to be filed that the last employee didn’t do a good job. They don’t need to be told.
6. Advise them that they are not to have friends at the company or to talk with people when getting a cup of coffee or in the bathroom
I was told on my second day of work, “As we are HR people, we do not have friends here.” The implication was that I was to not make friends with anyone. And I was told I was allowed 2 minutes to go to the bathroom and get a cup of coffee. No chatting. As someone who listed relationship building and being outgoing as strengths, this seemed a bit odd.
HR Professionals do have to be careful when making friends at work because of confidentiality. But to be told no chatting or socializing, particularly when I listed being an outgoing personality as a strength, felt very strange.
Certainly if someone is abusing their time and hiding in washrooms or spending hours by the coffee pot and not completing their job, then they need to be told what is and is not appropriate.
(Side note from Pam: There can be great value in the “water cooler” chatter where sharing and collaborating often takes place at an informal level. It is certainly difficult at times for HR practitioners to be friends with co-workers – but being friendly is another story.)
7. Do not call them by name; refer to them as a position or location
I started to notice over the course of my first full week that my new boss didn’t call me by name. Instead she referred to me as “That Desk”. As in, “That Desk is responsible for benefit inquiries” or “Completing this paperwork belongs to That Desk.” I started to listen carefully and realized that she never said that something was my task or responsibility; she referred to me as That Desk.
I was not only offended, but also hurt by her inability to use my name and to give the task to me. I was stripped of my identity. I was also clearly shown that I had to have been one of many to do this job. My boss was no longer referring to us by name, but rather as That Desk because she had had so many of us sitting in it.
Ensure that your new employee is made to feel like they are part of the department and/or team. Include them in meetings, decisions and when handing them a task, be sure to give it to them. Make it personal and give them the responsibility, not the position. When an employee feels like they are part of the group and they matter, they are much more likely to work hard and complete the tasks assigned.
8. Do not tell them how to do their job when they ask, instead direct them to the out dated procedure binder
I realized very quickly that my boss didn’t really know how to do my entire job, which I didn’t necessarily expect. But I also didn’t expect that when I would ask how to do something, she would direct me to a giant binder filled with notes. I came to learn by some of the dates in the book that the procedure notes were 5 or more years old and didn’t apply in many cases. It seemed easier for me to figure out the tasks on my own after awhile.
Instead of being directed to a binder that she clearly hadn’t looked at, my boss should have helped me sort through the procedure, showing me in the binder the steps but also walking me through the steps or pointing me to a person that knew how to do it, correctly. I don’t expect my boss to know my entire job, but it was clear early on that she didn’t even know that the binder was out dated.
9. Make sure to impose confusing and contradictory rules
One rule that was made clear early on was that I was to take my lunch from 12pm to 1pm and if I needed to change for a day, I needed to ask permission. If I were late leaving for lunch, I was still to be back at 1pm. I was also told that I was not to be a clock-watcher. What I could not understand was how I could take my lunch at 12pm and not watch the clock. Since I couldn’t shift my lunch, if I needed the full hour to run errands, I had to watch the clock in order to leave on time.
As a manager, if you’re going to set forth rules, ensure that they make sense. Giving contradictory or confusing directives leads to frustration and confusion. Ask for others’ feedback before declaring a rule to be in force. Also ask if it passes the reasonableness test.
(Side note from Pam: Really? Lunch must be taken from 12-1 in an office environment? Is it 1970? In this day and age when flexibility is so important to people of all generations, this is astonishing.)
10. Be sure to be unapproachable and standoffish when answering questions
In my offer letter we had agreed that I could have a certain amount of paid vacation and unpaid vacation and that I was not required to complete my probationary period before taking it. When I finally got up the courage to go and ask my boss for the time off, she responded with “yes, but since you have not earned the time, if you leave before the end of the year, we’ll take it off your final pay.” Since I read my offer letter and am aware of standard practice when dealing with vacation pay, this wasn’t news. But I felt very taken aback at being told this.
I have since never gone and asked her for time off again, I have emailed her. I also will continue to email her these request because approaching her often leads to feeling uncomfortable and unsure of what to do or say.
When your employees approach you with a question, try to be open and willing to answer. You may not like the question, but by giving terse, uncomfortable or snide answers, you are encouraging your employee to stay away. Employees who don’t feel like they can ask questions may make mistakes, guess at answers and are likely afraid or uncomfortable. Instead, be open, share with the employee, encourage them to help answer the questions or find ways to phrase something negative in a less threatening way.
Needless to say, my experience with this company has not been pleasant and while I don’t mind my job, I do not like my boss. And as is the case with so many job seekers, when I leave this company, I will be quitting my boss, not the position.