New Kid at the Office – What does familiarity have to do with team building and retention?



I have had a lot of new job experiences because I have done a lot of contract work. So I am familiar with starting new things in new places with new people. 
A few months ago my husband treated me to the Luke Bryan concert, the biggest ‘treat’ part was watching the concert from a private suite. I took note of the other guests in the suite who were attempting to find people in the greater audience that they knew – then would wave wildly with huge smiles on their faces once connected. A flurry of texts would go back and forth and then a jubilant and fierce waving hand would shoot up signifying success in locating their person.
I thought this was interesting because I have done the same thing, and, I wondered why we do it? Why is it so much fun? Why do we care if we can find someone in a crowd of thousands? What makes that appealing, exciting, and maybe a little bit comforting? 
And then I thought of my multiple first days and realized that maybe that face in the crowd helps us feel more comfortable because it is familiar, and that familiarity is what calms our hearts on that unknowing first day. So what does this mean to you? 
Well, if you are hiring new staff and creating orientations for them, perhaps finding someone or something familiar is worth your effort. Perhaps helping them feel comfortable in a new situation will be something they build their foundation of loyalty from? 
I have started many new contracts, some first days were outstanding, some were baffling. The outstanding ones were littered with familiarity, and a feeling of fitting in, that I was in the right place, that I had made the right decision. And even though some of these became very challenging projects, I felt sure in my decision to be there and I felt loyal.
The others, the ones that were less outstanding, were plagued by extensive paperwork where I sat in a room by myself to complete the various forms. So I was punished and isolated? There were the obligatory introductions at first call, but then I was left on my own. No one told me all the bits and pieces I needed to know so I had to hunt them out, and in one case, they didn’t have my space ready for me, so I had to continually move when the desk or space owner returned. None of that made me feel welcome, none of it made me feel like I had made the right decision. All of it made me feel like I was entering into a messy situation where people were surpassed for work product or lunch breaks.
Creating familiarity among your team helps them rely on each other when things get tough. It also helps them relate to each other in a non-work way and ideally promotes empathy and kindness. Sometimes as part of projects, I administer employee engagement surveys, and almost every time there is very high response rate requesting more team-building activities. Which leads me to believe we want to know our fellow workers, we want to form a team, we don’t want people to be left out. In fact, I even got dinged on a performance review for not having lunch often enough with my coworkers. We don’t want, and are likely uncomfortable with, outliers, non-conformists, or those who are not seen as part of our team. We even, may not trust them.
So I ask you, what was their onboarding like that may have caused them to build work habits that don’t conform to the group? Is there any part of their first day that has instigated the creation of silos? What could you have done differently?
Think about the dreaded experience of being the new kid in school. What did, or didn’t, the school administration and teachers do to help that experience be favourable, versus painful? Did that first day, or first few days set the tone for which peer group you would be a part of, where you fit? Was it critical to how you felt about the new school, how you felt about your own capabilities in that new school, or even if you wanted to attend that new school? Did it affect your loyalty to that new school?
Helping our new folks, whether temporary or permanent, will help the rest of your team function at a high performing level. Remember, you are the example, so if your lunch date is more important than their comfort on day one, what or who will help them stick it out when day 45 and 405 are tough? Or when day 343 is really tough?
As human beings we seek out what we know, we find comfort in the familiar, and where it does not exist for us, we will try to create it. What can you do as a leader to foster familiarity for your new staff or what can you do to foster an environment of familiarity – of relaxed friendliness, of intimacy that positively affects your bottom line. Because let’s face it, people who connect with co-workers stay at jobs longer, people who like the people they work with stay at jobs longer, people who feel a sense of community, feel included, and feel a part of something stay at jobs longer.
If your retention rate is low, perhaps your familiarity rate is too.
1Comment
  • Debra Wutke
    Posted at 16:07h, 21 December Reply

    As we come to the end of a year, many will reflect on the past 365 days.Whether they formally make a resolution to change or simply decide to do things differently going forward, the essence of your post will be at the root of their motivation. Belonging, feeling connected, enjoying what you're doing, making a difference; these are core to a satisfying life. Thanks for sharing and best wishes for the season and celebrating in a way that is special for you.

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