Being left alone in a room for four hours with a pile of videos is certainly not the best start to a new job, but it pales beside the experience of the recruit who was “told to hop on one leg and sing ‘we all live in a yellow submarine’ on my own, in front of 20 other new starters”.
Or how about the eager new employee who turned up only to discover their manager did not know they had been recruited? Or, again, the person being inducted by an HR officer who “was much more interested in the male inductees’ private lives”?
These are all horror stories from a survey of 5,700 people by jobs website Reed.co.uk published in October, which found that one in 25 workers walk out of a new job after a matter of weeks, or even days, simply because their employer has failed to help them settle in.
The recruitment firm is not alone in having discovered this gross waste of new talent. A recent poll by management consultancy Chiumento found that just a third of HR professionals felt they had been able to deliver on the promises made to new employees.
And a similar study in June by leadership consultancy Common Purpose reported that more than 36 per cent of high-fliers were angry with their employers because they believed they had broken their promises. As a result, 26 per cent planned to leave their current job within a year, more than half within two years and 68 per cent within four years, it reported.
If you’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money getting someone to agree to come and work for you, when they finally walk in the building it is self-evidently a good idea to make them feel welcome. So, what’s going wrong and what can HR do about it? The first point to make clear, argue the experts, is that it is not entirely fair to point the finger of blame at HR.
In these situations HR will often be carrying the can for problems of office culture or managerial attitudes that are hugely difficult to influence. In many organisations, HR is hampered by generational issues when it comes to slotting in new recruits, argues Bob Arnold, director of strategic consulting at Chiumento.
Line managers can feel threatened by high-fliers, may not see the role of the newcomer in the same way as HR, or simply do not feel there is any incentive to make the new recruit’s life easier. In this sort of situation, there is clearly a need to have robust communication channels in place.
If the line manager hasn’t been told what to expect from the new recruit, or what they themselves are expected to do, things are bound to get off on the wrong foot. Similarly, the line manager needs to realise why it is important that expectations are met, what is in it for them and the consequences of getting it wrong.
As illustrated in the case study below, Shell took a deliberate decision two years ago to re-evaluate how it came across to new recruits, particularly graduates.
Navjot Singh, Shell’s global manager for recruitment, says the company looked at what it could offer graduates – it recruits around 500 every year – and came up with four key areas of opportunity: travel overseas, breadth of opportunity, early responsibility and continual challenges.
In the company’s last satisfaction survey of new graduate recruits, around 94 per cent said they were satisfied at Shell over the past two years, compared with an average below 50 per cent for most other big corporations, according to Singh.
“It’s about working with line managers to develop ongoing training programmes. We have, for instance, a networking programme, called Shell Life, designed to bring new graduates together. It’s about interacting with stakeholders and line managers,” he says.
The initial induction period is critical, he believes. “Post-offer activities have to meet expectations,” he stresses. Even the smallest things can make a difference. “Is your PC connected, is your desk in the right place, do you have a proper seat?”
Get these wrong, says Singh, and it will immediately cast doubt in a new recruit’s mind as to their value to their new employer. “There is always room for improvement. But the key to success is ensuring that whatever you promise is realistic and achievable.”
The key, agrees Chiumento’s Arnold, is for HR to ensure there is engagement and understanding at all levels.
“It would be wrong to blame HR unless HR does not have in place the systems to ensure that promises can be delivered. But HR does need to be making sure that it can deliver what it says,” he explains.
HR needs to know what the manager doing the hiring is promising and that any promises are deliverable. “It needs to have a facilitator role,” he adds.
It is absolutely vital, too, to break the cycle, advises CIPD adviser Angela Baron. Treating a new arrival like cheap labour just because that’s what happened to you is rarely sensible. Here, again, HR has a crucial role in helping to ensure those first few weeks go smoothly.
“A lot of it is down to how you market the job. It’s very easy to go over the top. You have to be realistic – and the people running the interviews have to be realistic. If there is a certain part of the job that is routine or basic, but has to be done, then it needs to be made clear to people,” she stresses.
HR needs to be clearly visible during the induction period, suggests Liz Hagger,
e-guidance manager for graduate careers service Graduate Prospects. Regular contact can often resolve a lot of the problems before they become serious.
HR also has a role in helping the current generation of managers understand the next generation coming through. In particular, HR needs to understand the new recruits’ needs, aspirations and expectations, says Julia Middleton, founder and chief executive of leadership development organisation Common Purpose.
More positively, companies and HR professionals are beginning to grasp the fact that it is often simply the process that is at fault, argues Susan Miller, director of recruitment firm Obvious Solutions.
Miller’s company creates videotapes of potential candidates for firms to assess and at the same time gives the candidates tapes of the company, so helping both sides to self-select out if it is obvious they are coming from different directions.
The firm, which started in 1998, already boasts a client list including Microsoft, Scottish Enterprise, BP and Amazon.
“Last year we put forward 54 graduates for Microsoft, and it took 48 of them. Since 2000 it has had only two leave, and they were both for personal reasons,” she says.
Organisations, she suggests, must not only talk about how fantastic a job is but its downsides too.
She cites the example of one client, Exel Logistics. “If, for instance, it was hiring a warehouse manager, it may not always be a nice position to be in. You could be spending a Friday night in a cold, wet warehouse making sure pallets are being moved around, while everyone else is down the pub,” she explains. “But you have got to tell them that.”
HR learning points
– Communicate with line managers, make sure they know what is expected of them, and why it is important expectations are met
– Be realistic with candidates, don’t oversell the job or promise things that cannot be delivered
– Make yourself visible, especially during the induction period, to help iron out any problems
– Use appraisals to assess satisfaction levels and find out what more can be done
– If it’s clear expectations are not being met – perhaps from exit interviews – make it a priority to find out what is going wrong.
Case study: Shell smoothes the path by listening
Shell recruits around 500 graduates each year and two years ago revised its approach to recruitment to ensure that newcomers felt included and challenged.
Andrea Jiminez considers herself one of the lucky ones. Jiminez, 25, started work with Shell in September of last year after completing a degree in economics and politics in Paris.
Now working as a logistics and business analyst, as part of Shell’s graduate training programme, she relishes the fact her bosses are prepared to listen to her needs and try to match her expectations – unlike many of her contemporaries.
“My experience is that I have very open lines of communication with line managers. But for a lot of my graduate friends it is very different,” she says.
“Some companies seem to give very little training and a lot of companies just seem to leave graduates to their own path. I have many friends, particularly in consultancy and banking, who feel they are doing the job for the salary, but they do not have any loyalty to their company,” she says. “There is no long-term vision.”
Jiminez, by contrast, has a mentor in another part of the business that she can turn to. She has also been sent on a range of courses since starting and her line managers are partly evaluated on the quality of their coaching.
“I have been impressed because I have come into the business with a non-technical background. But people have spent time explaining what the job is about and what I should be doing day to day,” she explains.
“From day one they said they wanted to work with me, asked me what I needed and how I felt.”