Bringing a new person onto your team can be a delicate time: the person is forming impressions that will sometimes be long-lasting, and what happens in their first weeks can shape their perspective and morale for a long time to come.
Here are five things that are kryptonite to say to new team members during onboarding.
“We’re swamped right now and no one will have time to train you, so keep yourself busy for the next few weeks. Here are some manuals to read.” New employees are usually excited and eager to get to work. Finding out that they’ll just be sitting around for days or weeks will let the wind out of their sails faster than you can say “employee onboarding video.” If you want new hires to continue to be excited and enthusiastic, you have to show that you’re excited to have them there and have put thought into ensuring that they’ll be able to get to work. (Also in this category: “I’m not sure when your computer will get here.”)
“Watch out for the VP — she’s difficult.” Warning a new team member about a difficult coworker may seem like a kindness, but it can poison relationships before they even begin. By all means, give your new colleague useful tips (like “Jane prefers very short emails and doesn’t like too many interruptions”), but avoid negative characterizations and let them form their own impressions.
“We’re all going to lunch. We’ll be back in an hour.” Assign someone on your team to take your new employee out to lunch on her first day – or at least to make sure she knows what lunch options are available. And definitely don’t abandon her while the rest of you head out to eat together.
“We really needed to hire a woman, so I’m glad you’re here.” Don’t make your new team member feel like a token hire, or that you’re seeing her gender before anything else about her.
“We have initiation rites for new employees.” Sending the new guy on a supply run to a nonexistent office might be a time-honored welcome ritual, but you might be walking a finer line than you realize with initiation traditions. Think carefully about whether people are likely to feel truly welcomed – or just uncomfortable. Don’t ask people to sing a song (some companies really do this!), share their most embarrassing moment (people do this one too!), or otherwise make themselves vulnerable to a group of strangers they’re not yet comfortable with.
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