The challenges small companies face when bringing a new employee on board

0 August 31, 2015 at 1:22 pm by

handshake while job interviewingCompared to what happens at a large employer, it can be very challenging for a small company to welcome a new employee on board successfully. Although integrating a new hire into the company’s culture can be difficult, the benefits of doing it well, and the costs associated with it doing it badly, make it worth the time and effort.

For a large employer, the arrival of a new employee can be a weekly, if not a daily, event. Given the size of the organisation, a large company often has a team of Human Resource professionals ready to welcome the new recruit on board. Typically there is a formal orientation process in place that explains the company’s policies and procedures. Because new employees are being welcomed on a fairly routine basis, other members of the organisation are accustomed to bringing new people up to speed. And, because there are so many employees working at the firm already, the time spent training the new arrival does not represent a major disruption in the workflow of the whole work unit. As a result, the new hire has the chance to learn the ropes fairly quickly without causing everyone else to fall behind in their work.

For a small company, it can be just the opposite. Often, there is no formal orientation process at all. The new hire shows up for work on the first day expected to settle into the new job effortlessly. I am reminded of the scene in Slaughterhouse-Five where Billy Pilgrim’s father tries to teach Billy to swim by throwing him into the deep end of the pool. This is followed by the father calling out, ‘Sink or swim, Billy!….Billy??…. Billy!!!!!’

Especially in the early stages following the arrival of a new employee, the job of management is to be like a lifeguard, ready to jump in if the new hire runs into difficulty.

The problems faced by small companies when bringing on a new hire are understandable. Because a small company lacks the bureaucracy of a big company, there is almost never a policy and procedures manual to help guide the new recruit. To make matters worse, given that there are a small number of employees to begin with, there typically isn’t slack built into the system to allow one of the existing employees to stop whatever they’re doing in order to train the new arrival. Plus, when the hiring of a new employee is a relatively rare event, it’s easy to forget the difficulties a recruit faces when trying to learn how things are done at a new workplace. Things get worse if the new recruit is made to feel that asking questions is bothersome. If a bad on-boarding experience is allowed to fester, it can lead to the employer feeling the new employee is not catching on quickly enough, and the employee feeling overwhelmed and unwelcome. In extreme cases, the employee may just quit.

To avoid having a new hire leave almost as soon as they’ve started, employers should be sensitive to how much the new person has to learn. As a confidence builder, it helps to establish short-term, reachable goals for the new recruit. The employer should also prepare the existing staff for the arrival of a new team member. Small offices tend to be cliquey which makes it all the more important that long-term employees are not given cause to resent the new arrival. The early days in any relationship can set the tone for what comes after. With this in mind, it is incumbent on management to be supportive as the new hire tries to learn the ropes and find her/his place within the organisation. As part of the welcoming process, the owner of a small firm should devote extra care and attention to how the new person is coping in those early weeks. Part of this process can include an informal meeting to ask the new person how things are going and then to sit back and listen to whatever the new hire says.

For their part, new employees should be prepared for an unstructured, and possibly rocky, on-boarding process. There are advantages to working for a small employer. Smaller companies tend to be nimble. Also, there’s an opportunity for an employee at a small office to make a real difference to the company’s fortunes and to be noticed for it. On the other hand, a small company can be parochial. This, coupled with a poor training programme, can make a new arrival feel overwhelmed and unwelcome.

A supportive relationship in the early days may not take the place of the slick on-boarding process a large company can offer, but it will go a long way to convincing the new employee that it’s worth sticking around.

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