On Onboarding: The Employee’s Guide

In my last blog post, I compiled a mini guide to onboarding for employers. As I created it, I realized that there’s a major gap. Not all employers are going to do a great job of creating an effective onboarding experience. That will leave newbies on the job in the lurch. If that’s you, you’re in luck. This blog is a cheat sheet of sorts for the new hires who have to make their own way.

Challenges of Starting in a New Role

As previously mentioned, not all employers provide a phenomenal onboarding experience. In fact, some organizations don’t have any structured onboarding process at all. That’s an issue for every person coming into the organization. How are you supposed to succeed if you’re not set up for it?

Starting in a new role can be challenging enough. This HBR article breaks down a lot of the obstacles newbies face. Most obviously, there’s just a lot to learn. A new job will likely require a person to adapt to unfamiliar jargon, policies, and workflows. In addition, there’s tons of people you don’t know! That’s daunting and can be quite impactful. Research indicates that the quality of a person’s social connections at work affect their job satisfaction. Moreover, networks are critical to success in the modern workplace. If you start a new job without the proper support and introductions, you’ll have an uphill battle to build that network.

Finally, there’s the overarching uncertainty that just makes everything harder. It increases stress and negatively impacts job performance. That might be because we tend to freeze when we don’t know what to do. We have a cognitive bias that makes us think that taking a risk is worse than not doing anything. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. New hires need to put themselves out there to make a good impression. Uncertainty paralysis isn’t your friend here. And to make matters worse, that hesitation extends to networking. (Remember what we just said about the importance of making connections at work.) When we don’t know people and the culture, we withdraw. We overestimate the amount of misunderstandings we’d have if we tried to connect. As a result, you can end up unsure and alone in an unfamiliar environment. That’s a scary prospect.

How to Get Going

So what can you do to get a leg up out of the quicksand of uncertainty? This Forbes article provides a good roadmap to get you started. First, try to understand your new role. What do people expect you to deliver? What obstacles will you face on the way to your goals? Be sure to ask these questions directly when you can. In addition, observe others in a similar role or on your team. Also pay attention to what your supervisor asks about in meetings. Over time, you should start to form a good sense of what’s expected and what to expect.

Next, you’ll want to identify key stakeholders. By the way, there’s a whole article about how a good network will jumpstart your success in a new job. Basically, you have to be intentional about this. Besides the coworkers you’ll interact with directly, think about who else will be influential. Try to get to know these people and look to collaborate with them. Identify gaps in your knowledge or skills they can support, but also look to be of service for them. With time, you’ll create strong connections you can leverage to make your work more impactful for the organization. If you want more tips for networking, check out this earlier blog.

Finally, monitor your progress and accept feedback openly. This doesn’t just mean you should ask people directly to evaluate your work, although that’s valuable input too. You can also pay attention to the assignments you’re entrusted with. Have you built trust? Do others seem to want to work with you? Do coworkers look to you for advice and ideas? All of these are markers that can show you how well you’re acclimating. If you have any concerns, bring them up with your supervisor and make adjustments.

Leaders Can Be Newbies Too

It’s worth noting that new hires aren’t only employees. Often, they’re also managers and leaders. If you’re in that category, I think this article on growing influence might be super helpful. It suggests ways to leverage that amazing network you’ll build to practice leadership more effectively. As a starting point, you have to recognize that the ability to be influential at work depends on your relationships.

Start by building trust and showing empathy to your coworkers and direct reports. Engage in one-on-one meetings, look for opportunities to give positive feedback, and ask how you can be of support. Before you can inspire others, they’ll need to feel they can trust you. Another major strategy towards growing trust is being open to learning. This will require adopting a growth mindset and expecting to learn from others. Active listening will help you hear the insights and perspectives others share that can open your eyes to new possibilities.

Only once you’ve gotten to know your coworkers and earned their trust can you become an influential leader. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the power of persuasion depends on knowing who you’re talking to. 

Hitting the Brakes From the Beginning

I do want to include a word of caution. To those eager newbies excited to try all these strategies at once: don’t overdo it! When people feel overly pressured to succeed quickly in a new job, they risk burnout. Instead, set healthy expectations for yourself by saying no when you need to.

This article on setting boundaries offers some excellent strategies to make this practical. First, identify your beliefs about what you should or have to do that make you overextend yourself. For instance, you might feel that you should respond to messages right away, even in the evenings. Is that reasonable? Sustainable? Take time to consider that before you set that standard for yourself.

setting boundaries with raised handWhen you’ve come to a good sense of your own boundaries, share them. Introductory meetings with your manager and coworkers are a good time to do this. Ask them for their expectations and introduce your boundaries in the same conversation. You can be clear about your start and end times each day, response time, and how often you’ll take breaks.

If you’d like to introduce a boundary you struggled with before, now’s the time to make it happen! A new environment is the perfect setting for you to build new healthy habits.

Recs for Remote New Hires

Finally, if you’re starting a new remote job, you’ve got a whole separate set of circumstances. Your challenges will likely include Zoom fatigue and managing your time while working from home. You’ll probably need to learn how to reach the help desk for technological assistance. Plus you’ll need access to all software and communication tools the organization uses, like Pyrus. You may need some extra tips for building your confidence to speak up in virtual meetings. If you’re in the remote boat, check out this video from Indeed. It’s chock full of helpful ideas and suggestions to help you succeed.

No matter what kind of job you’re starting, always remember to be patient with yourself. Don’t let impostor phenomenon get you down, and prioritize your own wellbeing. I hope these tips give you some useful support as you navigate a tricky transition. Best of luck!