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Staff Recognition & Retention

Now That Someone has Been Hired, the Real Recruiting Begins

Most of us remember our first day on the job. Everything was new. We didn’t know what to expect. What did the future hold? How long would we work there before moving on to another employer? How would this experience look on our resume? We quickly formed impressions of our new employer, our new co-workers and most importantly, our new boss. What happens during employees’ first few hours on the job influences their feelings about the organization. Before Day One ends, the newcomers are contemplating their futures. Some will commit to their new employer, while others will commit to a new job search.

Consider what happened to this young man on his first day of what he anticipated would be his dream job – working in the ski and snowboard department of a local sporting goods store. It was a job he really wanted. While living in another city, he had spent several months working in a ski shop. He enjoyed helping customers, advising them on equipment and putting together packages. There were also the fringe benefits of learning about the latest equipment and being able to test it on the nearby mountain slopes.

Returning to his hometown, he submitted an application to work in a local sporting goods store that sold skis. Getting no response to his first application, he applied again. Still, no job offer. Finally, after his third application, he was interviewed and offered a job. He was delighted. He could hardly wait for his first day on the job to come. Unfortunately, his joy was short-lived.

When he came home after his first day he admitted to his father, “It wasn’t what I had expected.” Pressed for more information, he described his first day on the job:

  • No one explained what he was expected to do.
  • He had been given simple tasks that were quickly completed, leaving him standing around, unsure of what to do next. Rather than suggesting what needed to be done, managers appeared disgusted that he was idle.
  • He was told specifically that he was to operate within strict guidelines from which he was unable to deviate without permission from a manager. That left him unable to empower himself to act in the best interest of the customer as he had done so often in his previous job.
  • He received no feedback, either positive or negative, on what he did.

“The job is OK for now,” he concluded, “until I find something else.” It was his first day, but already he was preparing to search for a new job.

This is not how managers and supervisors want new employees to feel. They want them to leave at the end of that first day feeling an enhanced sense of excitement about their work, where they work, and the people with whom they work. New staff should feel committed to the organization, believe they have already made a contribution to it and will continue to add to the organization’s success. When their family or friends ask about their first day, they should respond positively:

“It is a great place to work. I really like the people I work with. They seem to care about each other and they already care about me. They asked me to do things that were important. It was only my first day, but I feel that I am contributing. I am looking forward to going to work tomorrow.”

What went wrong in the ski store example? How was the excitement of the new job replaced with disillusionment in one short day? As a supervisor, what can you do to ensure this is not how new staff think about your organization following their first day on the job?

Day One: The Most Important Day of an Employee’s Career

The sporting goods store manager failed to understand the importance of an employee’s first day. Like many others, he felt that once someone is hired, the recruitment process is over when in fact, it has just begun. To retain staff , to keep them focused and motivated, and to minimize turnover, managers and supervisors must continually re-recruit staff, beginning on Day One. Make Day One a rewarding experience and by the end of the shift a newcomer will be looking forward to the next morning. Failure to make a newcomer’s first day special _– along with all those that follow – results in a work environment characterized by low morale, little commitment and a higher-than-necessary turnover rate.

On Day One, and on the days leading up to and following Day One, organizations plant the seeds of employee retention or resignation. The manager’s job in dealing with a new employee is similar to the relationship between an effective salesperson and his customers. The sale (hiring) doesn’t end when the customer pays and accepts delivery. Effective salespeople follow up with after-sales service, to ensure the customer is happy with her purchase and is taking advantage of all that the new product can do. He reinforces the customer’s buying decision. There is no opportunity to become disillusioned with the purchase (or the decision to accept the job offer).

The process of continual re-recruitment works in the same fashion. The focus of the recruiting process shifts from attracting applicants to retaining those who are hired. Effective supervisors reinforce the newcomer’s decision to accept the job offer. They let the newcomers know that what they do is important, and that they and their contributions are valued. Retaining quality hires is a process of re-recruiting applicants who are now employees.

Few employees come to a new company planning to stay for life. Among many of the people with whom I once worked, it was common to hear, “When I came I only planned to stay two years for the experience. Then I intended to move on to something else.” Some did leave within two years, but others stayed on long after those first two years were over. In many organizations, the highest turnover rates occur within the first few months.

Knowing the value of positive first impressions, it is important that the process of welcoming new staff be taken seriously and be well-planned. Everything that the newcomer experiences during the orientation process should confirm the wisdom of his decision to accept your job offer. Your organization is where he was meant to be. He has discovered compelling reasons to remain.

The orientation period is a time to build comfort and rapport. The orientation is also a time to acquaint the newcomer with the organization and its culture. There is no better place to begin than by explaining and promoting the beliefs and values that drive the organization. A well-planned and -delivered orientation is a powerful retention tool. Orientation activities serve to educate and inspire new employees. It is a time to define expectations, ensuring employees begin their new jobs with a clear understanding of their roles within the organization.

Understanding what is expected of them creates employees who are more likely to act in ways that contribute to both their own successes and the organization’s success.

Effective orientations for new employees are not a one-day event, but a process that will continue over days and weeks. Some aspects of the orientation may begin before the employee’s first day on the job while others may not be completed until well into the first year on the job. The process of welcoming new staff can begin as soon as the person accepts the formal employment offer. Let the newly-hired employees know that the organization is looking forward to their arrival.

When it comes to welcoming new staff, small businesses have an advantage over their larger counterparts. Small businesses don’t have big human resources departments. The direct supervisor is responsible for the new employee’s orientation.

In larger organizations, human resources professionals often take the lead role in planning and conducting orientations. But the orientation of new staff is much too important to be left to just one group. Others, from senior executives to front line co-workers have a role to play. Whether or not they are formally involved, all will contribute to the newcomer’s first impressions.

The role played by the supervisor is most important. She is key to the effectiveness of the newcomer’s welcome. The new employee will relate to his supervisor on a day-to-day basis. How the supervisor treats employees on their first day can have a powerful and lasting effect, setting the tone for what may be a long-term work relationship. When employees are made to feel ignored, unappreciated or a bother on their first day, they will begin to think about finding their next job, rather than committing to their current job. They sense that they are not valued as individuals, but are seen as just additional cogs in the corporate machine.
Supervisors who schedule time with new employees on their first day and during their first weeks convey a message of respect. Time that supervisors spend with newcomers is time well spent.

Key Day One Messages

The key purpose of the orientation is to educate new hires about the expectations of the job, the purpose and values of the organization, and how and where the new staff fits. Doing so lays the foundation for making recognition relevant. Here are some messages that new employees should hear on Day One, or certainly within the first week:

  • Here are our expectations of you. Review the job description. Clarify anything that is vague. Talk about what is relevant to doing the job well. Explain that staff recognition focuses on actions that contribute to on-the-job success.

  • Recognition is part of our culture. Employees should expect to be recognized frequently by their supervisor and co-workers. In turn, they will be expected to thank those with whom they work when it is deserved. Suggest reasons they may wish to acknowledge others and ways to express this recognition. Make them aware of recognition programs and their criteria.

  • Feedback will be timely. Let new employees know that you will be monitoring their work because you want to let people know when they have done well . . . or not so well. Whether positive or negative, they will receive feedback frequently and as soon after the behaviour is observed as possible. You won’t save up to dump a pile of out-of-context feedback on them every few months.

  • Contributions of individuals are valued. Let new employees know that new ideas are welcome and that you value innovation. Create myths and legends around people. Tell stories about current and past employees. Recall how individuals made a difference. Describe how individual employees or groups have contributed to the success of the organization. Show through your words that their contributions were appreciated by you and others in the organization. While these descriptions may include significant achievements, it may be discouraging if you limit your descriptions to these big things (leaving the newcomer feeling, “I could never do something like that!”). Include the small things staff have achieved or contributed that are relevant to the success of the organization.

  • The big picture. Describe where the company has been, where it is today, and where it is going. Explain where the company fits in the marketplace. Identify its customers. Name the competition. Explain how the newcomer’s work will contribute to the organization meeting its goals and fulfilling its mission. Allow staff to feel part of something larger than themselves and their department.

  • The whole truth. Be honest with the newcomer. Identify challenges that the company is facing. List some of the difficulties that the newcomer will face on the job. Newcomers who have been given factual information won’t discover later that all was not as rosy as they had been led to believe.

Answer This Question Before it is Asked

Most of us who make hiring decisions have been asked at one time or another by an unsuccessful candidate, “Why didn’t I get the job?” A much less common question is the one asked by the person who had just been hired: “Why did I get the job?”

Don’t wait to be asked this second question! Most new employees don’t know for sure why they were hired. On Day One, or even sooner, meet with the new employee. Explain why she was hired. What did you like in her resume or in what you heard during her interview? What special skills, knowledge or attitudes did you identify during the selection process that caused you to choose her over other applicants? What skills do you feel she can bring to her new position?

This dose of positives will get the newcomer off to a good start. You have let her know that she is valued for the knowledge and skills she can contribute to the organization. Show your ongoing commitment to her development by discussing her career goals and how your organization may be able to help her reach these goals.

The process of recognizing staff and letting them know they are valued should begin on Day One and continue as long as they work there. Because we always identify positives about candidates before we hire them, feedback based on the interview is a great place to begin.

Some Things are Best Left Until Tomorrow

What makes the first few days in a new job memorable should not be a feeling of being overwhelmed by information and paperwork. Before sitting a new employee down on Day One to study procedure manuals, memorize policies and guidelines, and complete a mountain of forms, ask: Does all of this need to be done on Day One? Could – and should – some of this be spread out over several days, or longer?

New employees feel they are hired due to their skills and knowledge. They are eager to get started. They want to contribute, to demonstrate what they can do. Too much time spent completing forms, studying procedure manuals, and memorizing policies and guidelines will soon diminish the enthusiasm of even the most energetic newcomer.

Information about the organization’s history and culture, job expectations, procedures, and safety practices are all important, but trying to cram everything into one information-filled day is unlikely to be productive use of time for either the new employee or the staff providing the orientation. There is a limit to how much information can be absorbed during one sitting.

Many things that newcomers must learn are not things they must learn right away. Some companies have discovered how to avoid doing too much on Day One. They examine what information that a new hire will need, then differentiate between that which is needed immediately and which information can be provided later.

Some procedures, if explained on Day One, will be forgotten by the time the newcomer requires the information (which may be weeks, even months, into the job). Delay training that prepares new staff to deal with tasks that may only come up a few times during the year (such as quarterly updates and year-end reports) until it is needed. Schedule future orientation sessions in different locations so the newcomers will see the different aspects of the organization and how they complement each other.

On Day One, train new hires so they’re at the point where they can be productive as quickly as possible. A quick start and an early sense of making a contribution are good for the employee’s self-esteem. The morale of other staff improves as well when they see that new hires have begun to carry their own weight. Their contributions will be welcomed by others, some of whom have been taking up the slack while waiting for the position to be filled. (A recognition hint: remember to thank those who did extra while the position was vacant.)

It may also be possible to wait to collect required personal information. While it is important to add the newcomer to the payroll and sign her up for benefits, it may be possible to delay completing this paperwork until later in the employee's first week. Perhaps some of these forms could be part of a pre-employment package sent to the newcomer.

Some Tasks Should Never be Delegated

Today, a quarter-century after the event, I still remember meeting with my supervisor on my first day in a new job. After explaining what was expected of me, he made an offer that demonstrated his commitment to my success:

“If you have any questions about the job, please come and see me. I have told my secretary that if you want to see me anytime during the next few weeks, she is to find a way to work you into my schedule.”

As I was getting to know my new job, there were several times when I took him up on his offer. And true to his word, there was always time in his day for us to meet.

I tell this story to illustrate how important the supervisor is in making a new employee feel like a valued member of the organization. As a supervisor, you are key to the integration of new employees. There are two tasks related to welcoming new staff that should not be assigned to others: making the job offer and greeting the new employee.

The most important call a future employee will receive is that in which he receives a job offer. The offer should come from someone the new staff member will see as significant, having authority and importance in the organization such as you, his soon-to-be direct supervisor. The newcomer should feel that he is important enough to warrant a call from the boss.

You should also be available on the employee’s first day. By scheduling time to greet the new employee, introduce him to to others and talk about the company, the supervisor sends a message to both the new person and to existing staff. The newcomer is valued enough that the supervisor has set aside time to be with him. This gives the newcomer instant credibility in the eyes of co-workers.

As important as it is that you are there to greet the new employee at the beginning of the day, it is equally important that you spend time with her near the end of Day One. Discuss the day. Ask questions:

  • How are things going? Is anything worrying you?
  • Have you felt welcomed here?
  • What have you learned about our organization or your work?
  • How were you able to contribute?
  • What questions do you have about our company?”

This is also a good time for you to provide specific, positive feedback on something you saw the newcomer do well.
This Day One discussion should be the first of a series of conversations over the first several weeks that you will have with the newcomer as she settles into her job. Schedule time weekly to discuss the past week and the next week with her:

  • What have you accomplished in the past week? What have been your greatest challenges? What has gone well for you this week?
  • Is this job meeting your expectations?
  • Did anything happen this week that confused you about our policies and practices?
  • What processes/procedures do you feel could be changed or improved?
  • Who has been of assistance to you this week?
  • What are your goals for the next week?
  • Do you have the tools you need to do your job?
  • How could I assist you to reach these goals?

Listen to what the newcomer says. She may offer some suggestions or ideas that point to how things could be done better. These meetings are also times to assess the newcomer’s progress and provide feedback. Everything should be discussed as it occurs. There should be no surprises during the performance appraisal at the end of her probationary period.

Let the Recognition Begin

Does your organization have a culture of recognition? Have you told the new employee that recognition is important? If so, you had better back up your words with action and as soon as possible – preferably before Day One ends and certainly during the first week. Find a reason to recognize a newcomer for a contribution or achievement. This message will be appreciated during those first few hours and days of uncertainty and stress.

To recognize a new employee for the first time, don’t wait for her to make a major contribution. Find some small thing she has done well and recognize her for that. If the novice been successful in learning her job, recognize her for this success.

Day One would be a good time to introduce the concept of peer recognition. When you meet with her near the end of the day, ask whether any co-worker has been particularly helpful. What did he do? Give the newcomer a blank thank-you card and encourage her to take a moment to write a brief note of appreciation to this co-worker.

The first time you recognize a new employee for doing something well, keep it low-key. Avoid the fanfare of public recognition. Meet with the newcomer in private to give the positive feedback. Watch how she reacts. Talk about how she would like to be recognized.
The first time you praise new staff members in writing, give them an empty file folder. “This is the first of many notes and letters I am sure you will receive thanking you for your contributions to our organization. I suggest you keep these in this folder, along with notes of appreciation from customers and co-workers. Reread them often, particularly on those days when nothing seems to be going right.”

Involve Others in the New Employee’s Orientation

While you as the supervisor have an important role in welcoming new staff, it is not essential that you do everything. Involve others, from planning to implementation and eventually, to evaluating your orientation efforts.

Gather information from current employees, especially recent hires, when planning to welcome a newcomer. What did they like and dislike about their orientation? What do they wish had happened? What messages do they feel that a newcomer should hear? What information do they wish they had received during their first few days? How could they have been made to feel more welcome? What you hear will help you identify what information is most relevant to someone who is new to the organization. Incorporate this information into your plans. By involving existing staff in this way you show that they (and their opinions) are valued.

Even before Day One, others can be involved in welcoming the new hire. Imagine the message the organization sends when a new hire receives a brief telephone call from the CEO or another senior executive:

“Hello, this is Jack Jones, the CEO of XYZ Corporation. I just heard that you will be joining our staff next week. I want to personally welcome you on board and look forward to meeting you in person soon after you start. At XYZ Corporation we are committed to providing our customers with high-quality products when they need them. From what I have learned about you, I understand you have a strong background in customer service which is just what we need to meet this goal. I hope you enjoy working with us and will remain part of our team for a long time.”

Having received a phone call like this, the newcomer begins to believe that he is truly joining the right organization – one that cares about him and one which he will want to remain part of for a long time.

Another powerful contact can be made by a future co-worker, who works at a similar job or level as will the newcomer. The person making this call should be someone who has already shown a commitment to the organization. The caller could also be a recent hire who is approximately the same age as the newcomer, and who may serve as the newcomer’s informal mentor when he joins the organization.

“Hi. This is Steve. I work in the call centre of Acme Corporation. I understand you will be joining us soon. I am calling to welcome you to our group. I have worked here for about five months. It’s a pretty good place to work. The work is interesting and we are able to decide for ourselves how best to solve the problems that customers call us about. There are, of course, times when it gets busy and that can be a little stressful. Do you have any questions about the job or Acme Corporation? Is there anything that I can tell you about working here? If you think of any questions later, you can call me anytime. My phone number is…”

This future co-worker may be able to answer the newcomer’s questions. If he doesn’t have an answer, he should offer to get an answer and call back.

The newcomer can also have a role in shaping the orientation process for future staff. A few weeks after her first day, seek feedback from the newcomer on how she was welcomed to the organization:

  • What is your assessment of your orientation?
  • What was the most important aspect of the orientation? The most important information you received?
  • What other guidance or feedback would have made your first few weeks here easier?
  • What do you wish we had told you or done during the orientation?
  • What should we do to make it easier for others to join our organization in the future? How could we make them feel more welcome?

Consider this input as you plan to welcome the next new employee.

A Peer Mentor Can Help a Newcomer in Ways That No Supervisor Could

Let’s face it. Even the wisest supervisor doesn’t know everything about how the organization operates on a daily basis. Some of what a newcomer needs to know is best learned from a co-worker. A wise supervisor plans to take advantage of staff wisdom when preparing for a newcomer’s orientation.

This supervisor invites a staff member to serve as the new employee’s mentor, showing him the ropes as only a co-worker can. A peer mentor is able to explain things in a way that a supervisor never could. She understands how things get done on a day-to-day basis and knows the unwritten rules. A peer mentor can advise the newcomer how to use the phone system, the process for sending internal and external mail, when to arrive for staff meetings, how the staff social and coffee funds work, where to park, where and how to obtain office supplies, when to leave at the end of the work day, the unofficial dress code, and which chairs in the coffee room gave been “assigned” to particular staff members (“That’s where George always sits.”)

A key criterion for selecting a peer mentor is that this employee will welcome the role. He should not see mentoring as an extra burden, added to an already heavy workload. Let the mentor know that you chose him because you feel he has a great understanding of the business and will serve as a great role model for the new employee. The mentor does not have to be someone who has been around for years. A more recent arrival may better understand things from the perspective of a newcomer. She will have insight into what a new person needs to know.

Being a mentor may have some perks associated with the role. She may be invited to accompany the newcomer to part of the formal orientation. She, perhaps along with a few other staff members, can take the newcomer to lunch on her first day.

Be Prepared for the Employee’s First Day

Earlier, I listed several fears that employees may bring with them to their new jobs. Let me add one more to the list:

  • When I arrive, will anyone know that I am coming?
    No one wants to be greeted with questions such as: “Who are you? Why are you here?”

There are several ways in which you can prepare for a newcomer before her first day that will make her feel welcome:

  • Send a pre-employment package to the soon-to-start employee. Include information that will respond to first-day fears: where to go, where to park, who to ask for, dress code, etc. Provide forms that the new person can complete prior to Day One, to reduce the amount of paperwork she will face on that first day.
  • Ensure everything is ready when the newcomer arrives. On Day One, he will have the tools he needs to do the job and feel part of the organization, such as:
    • his business cards are printed and waiting for his arrival
    • he has been assigned a parking space
    • he has access to the equipment and supplies he needs to do his job
    • he has been given a password so he can access his computer
  • Prepare the newcomer’s name badge and name plate for his door or desk. Make sure her name is spelled correctly. Ask by which name he prefers to be known – it may be different than his given name (Robert may want to be called Bob or Rob or maybe even Skippy). The Gallup Organization suggests that 15 per cent of people would prefer to be known by names other than those by which others call them.
  • Let existing staff know that someone will be joining the organization or department. Provide them with a name, a start date, specifics related to his duties (if the job is new or responsibilities have changed), a few positives about the newcomer, his qualifications and a little background information. Existing staff should not be surprised when a new colleague arrives, nor should the newest person be greeted by, “Who are you?”
  • Let customers know they will be dealing with someone new. Provide a name, some background information and specifics about his duties.
  • Update staff lists and internal directories every time someone joins the staff. Having his name included gives the newcomer a sense of belonging and having been accepted. He is part of the team.
  • If some special event (training, planning day, etc.) is scheduled prior to the new employee’s first day, invite her to attend if possible. Pay her for the day. Reimburse any expenses.

An Employee’s First Day… a Time for Fun and Celebration

The orientation of new staff should be taken seriously…but it doesn’t have to take on a serious tone. Celebrate the newcomer’s arrival. Welcome her into your fun work environment:

  • Make the arrival of a new person an event. Greet him on the first morning with coffee and muffins. Schedule a special lunch. Hold an after-work social.
  • Send the newcomer on a scavenger hunt, looking for materials such as:
    • Signatures of all his new co-workers
    • Five examples of jargon that appear to be unique to the organization
    • Samples of print material about the organization (annual report, brochure)
    • The name of a co-worker who has been particularly helpful
      Provide a small reward when the newcomer has
      completed all these tasks.
  • During their first few weeks, have new employees wear a distinctive name badge that identifies them as new to the organization. After a prescribed number of weeks, and with a little ceremony, replace the temporary name badge with a permanent one.
  • Mark a milestone in the new employee’s career with your organization (end of the first month, after three months or 100 days on the job) with a congratulatory card signed by everyone in the department.

During his Staff Recognition & Retention seminars, Nelson Scott emphasizes the value of genuine, timely, specific, personalized and relevant recognition in making the organization more successful, increasing commitment, improving morale and reducing turnover.


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© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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