Jobs are still hard to come by in many places, so it’s surprising that nearly one in six employees quits a new job within six months — and 15% either makes plans to do so or quit outright with that time frame.
HR software company BambooHR surveyed more than 1,000 workers and found that the issue is “onboarding” problems. In plain English, that means your new boss or HR department does a horrible job orienting you and getting you up to speed.
First impressions are lasting impressions when it comes to fitting in on the job. John Kammeyer-Mueller, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, studied how new employees assimilate into the workplace and found that there’s only a 90-day window for settling in — mess up that, and it’ll be like being the new kid at school forever.
But unfortunately, not all companies are great about bringing new employees up to speed in a way that informs them without overwhelming them (BambooHR’s survey found that, while companies like to talk up perks like free food, what new workers really want is more and better training). If you landed in one of those workplaces, though, you’re not stuck either waking up dreading every day or walking out. You can take matters into your own hands and steer yourself along the on-ramp to a successful job. Here’s how:
Start before you get there. “Demonstrate initiative before you actually join the company and start your new role,” says Mike Fenlon, US and global talent leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Ask how you can prepare, request materials to review and speak directly with future team members.” Ask expectations for you and your new department, along with people you should look up and connect with once you get on the job.
Don’t be afraid to ask. Questions, that is. “Some people are afraid of asking for information because they’re worried that they’ll be judged as ignorant, but it seems like most established co-workers and supervisors prefer a question about how to do things right over a mistake,” Kammeyer-Mueller says.
Ask if you need information or if you want to get feedback about how you’re doing — and don’t assume no feedback means you’re doing everything right. Office cultures differ, and no news isn’t always good news. “Information and feedback seeking are both associated with increased feelings of competence and satisfaction with one’s work,” Kammeyer-Mueller says. “In short, people who know how to do their work tend to like what they’re doing more.”
Seek out a mentor. Some companies have formal mentoring programs, but if yours doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own. “Often, new employees can quickly find someone who is in the know and seems willing to help, even if they don’t have an official manager title,” says BambooHR co-founder and COO Ryan Sanders. Use these in-the-know colleagues as unofficial mentors, tapping them for technical as well as cultural expertise. Look for someone who is patient and knowledgeable, and who has good relationships with a wide variety of people both in and outside of your department.
Be friendly. No, it’s not directly related to your job, but good relationships with bosses and fellow workers are a make-or-break factor for many new workers. “Building relationships with co-workers helps people feel social adjusted,” Kammeyer-Mueller says. You don’t have to go overboard, he says. Keep it low-key by taking a personal interest in your colleagues’ feelings about their work and their life outside work. “Building relationships with a boss will be less personal, of course, but taking time to talk to a supervisor and treating him or her with friendly but appropriate behavior helps a lot,” he says.
Approach people the right way. “How you ask for feedback is just as important as who you ask,” Fenlon says. You want to make your colleagues trust and feel comfortable with you, so communicate in a positive way that you want to hear what they have to say, even if it’s critical. Fenlon says phrases like, “I want you to know that I’m open to hearing how I can improve and develop” will take you a long way. “Your co-workers and supervisors will respect your initiative, and you will gain credibility if you act upon the feedback,” he adds.
Say thanks. “We need more gratitude in the world in general, but especially for those who help you out,” Sanders says. It seems like a little thing, but he says it goes a long way towards forging positive relationships with your colleagues and starting you off on the right foot. “People want you to succeed, so be grateful to those that help you get up and running.”