The Biggest Mistake Bosses Make When Onboarding New Hires

Entry interviews are an important part of preventing burnout, keeping morale high, and encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work.

Concept Photo / Shutterstock
Concept Photo / Shutterstock

When new hires start a job, they typically go through an onboarding process that involves a few basics — things like receiving an ID card, learning where the bathrooms are, enrolling in health benefits. But getting people off to a good start requires so much more than an office tour and a welcome succulent. To truly set someone up for success, onboarding has to be a two-way street — with as much of a focus on learning about the new employee as managers place on teaching newbies about the company.

At Thrive Global, our solution to one-sided onboarding is what we call the entry interview, in which we ask new hires what helps them thrive, both at work and, especially, outside of work. Unlike the exit interview, which is a company’s last chance to extract potentially useful information about why someone has quit, the entry interview “essentially reverses the trend of trying to get information after it’s already too late,” says Ryan Greenbaum, an H.R. expert at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Ideally, this interview occurs during someone’s first day or week on the job. A manager’s responsibility, says Greenbaum, is to figure out “what are the main factors that motivate each employee? What are the main drivers of job satisfaction for each person?”.

And as Arianna Huffington points out, through an entry interview, we begin to know each other beyond work. Leaders can ask questions that uncover “what is important to you and how we can support you to be able to do that and experience what you want in that area while you’re good at work.” Because without becoming curious about the people who join our organizations from the very outset, we may overlook important parts of each other’s lives. Huffington recalls, for example, an employee who said that taking her daughter to school at 7:30 a.m. every day was important to her. Well, in her previous job, her boss always scheduled calls at 7:30, so she wasn’t able to share that cherished time with her children. Another new employee said it was important that she attend physical therapy appointments regularly to tend to her frozen shoulder. When Huffington asked her when she had last been to therapy, the employee said three months ago.

It’s easy to see, through these examples, how entry interviews “can strengthen employees’ feelings that managers value and care about them, which is an important driver of satisfaction, performance, and retention,” Adam Grant, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and author of Give and Take, told TheStreet. Frankly, it’s naive for managers to ignore the factors outside of work that drive people’s satisfaction and ability to perform well on the job. Only when they’re armed with knowledge about what matters most to their team — and what each person needs to feel fulfilled and energized at work — can managers support employees to reach their full potential.

Of course, the entry interview is also a chance for bosses to talk about their own expectations — for instance, if you’re the kind of manager that tends to send emails over the weekend but you don’t expect a response until Monday, you can make that clear. Talking about preferred communication styles upfront can make a difference between a thriving employee and one who is at risk for burnout. After all, science continues to show us that disconnecting from technology has so many implications for our well-being, including allowing us to sleep better, have downtime, and mentally recharge. And new employees may need explicit permission to unplug.

But what happens 30 days or six months into a job, when a boss can barely remember what they talked about during that entry interview? “The toughest part of this process is the follow-through,” says Greenbaum. “For these chats to achieve their full value, there needs to be a process in place that doesn’t allow for the factors discussed to fall through the cracks when times get busy.” Greenbaum suggests implementing regular check-ins with a direct report to keep the line of communication open. At Thrive, we do them at 30, 60, and 90 days as a way to keep current with what matters most. Adds Greenbaum: “The more that bosses think about these motivating factors for their employees, the more likely they’ll be to set their teams up for success.”

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