Onboarding New Employees

Dear, Anita,

We’ve had a lot of turnover in our company lately, a few in my own department (I manage IT). We try to get quality candidates who can hit the ground running. But it seems that there are always some fires to put out, so we tend to throw people in the deep end and hope they can swim. Many are sinking instead. I really don’t have time to keep training new people who turn around and leave. What can we do to improve our retention?

SONY DSCDear, Concerned Captain,

Voluntary turnover (or quits, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them) was on the rise in 2014 for private industries. With a tighter labor market (where there are more jobs than qualified workers), dissatisfied employees are more likely to jump ship. So let’s talk about how to get employees to stay at your company, or at least in your department.

Proper onboarding is important because turnover is costly – in time, recruiting costs, productivity loss, and morale. Onboarding is more than just filling out the HR forms and attending an orientation meeting. It’s the process of organizational socialization. You want to teach your new staffer about your company’s mission, values, and culture, as well as how he or she fits into your department and the organization as a whole.

To make an employee’s first day a less stressful experience, plan ahead for a smooth arrival. Since you’re in IT, I hope your business has a new hire portal that allows electronic completion of forms such as the W-4, I-9, etc. and access to the company’s policy handbook. Humanizing this portal with a welcome message from the manager as well as photos of teammates can go a long way toward easing the rookie’s mind.

Empty_Chair_iStock_000000515158_SmallYou don’t want your new hire to show up and have no place to sit or a cubicle without a workstation. It’s up to you to provide all the tools to do the assignments for which you’ve hired him. Job duties should be outlined in a detailed, clearly written manual, hopefully in an electronic version that is easily searchable. Video training is great for visual learners, assuming you have the resources. If the outgoing employee is available to train the new recruit, take advantage of the opportunity for job shadowing.

While the first day is important to make the employee feel welcomed and valued, effective onboarding lasts weeks or months. It can take up to a year for a new employee to become fully productive. Check in regularly with your freshman – not just in passing – with weekly or even daily meetings to ensure tasks are understood and completed and to gauge satisfaction of both parties.

Readers: What is your company’s best onboarding practice?

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Day One on Your New Job

Dear, Anita,

I used lots of your advice for my résumé and job hunting in the past couple of months, and I landed a sweet position as an administrative assistant! I start in a few weeks, and I’m excited and nervous at the same time. This is only my second job. How can I make sure I start off on the right foot?

Start New JobDear, Restive Rookie,

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Since you were hired, you obviously influenced your soon-to-be boss to good effect. But now you’ll want to charm the rest of the team with whom you’ll be working. Here are eight tips to help you put your best foot forward.

  1. Arrive on time. Better yet, show up 10 minutes early. Do a dry run of your route to work the week before, preferably near your starting hour to gauge potential traffic snarls. Get plenty of rest the night before so you won’t sleep through your alarm (easier said than done when nerves and an overactive imagination can keep you awake!). Select your outfit the night before, which brings us to…
  2. Tie in MirrorDress fittingly. When you interviewed, hopefully you noticed what is considered appropriate work wear for your position. When in doubt, overdress rather than underdress for your first day.
  3. Take notes. I never trust those waiters who don’t write down my order, do you? You’ll be deluged with a lot of new information. Hopefully there is a manual outlining all of your job duties, but bring your own notepad to jot things down so they make sense to you.
  4. Don’t talk too much. Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Before offering suggestions about how to improve things, or relating TMI (too much information) about your personal life, get to know the culture, systems, and other employees first.
  5. Ask questions. Conversely, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. What isn’t a dumb question today may appear foolish a few months down the road. If you finish a task, don’t just sit there – ask your supervisor what’s next.
  6. ’Fess up if you mess up. Oops, you accidentally hung up on a client. All but the most hard-hearted of bosses will forgive newbie mistakes, as long as you don’t keep repeating them.
  7. Bring your lunch – but nothing stinky (save your leftover curry for dinner). You may or may not be asked out to lunch by your new supervisor or coworkers. Toss your brown bag if invited, but you won’t starve if it’s not a social company culture.
  8. Have a great attitude. Show enthusiasm (but not deranged cheerleader level excitement). Keep a positive outlook even if you feel overwhelmed. More often than not, the feeling will pass once you get more comfortable with your new duties and surroundings.

Readers: Have you ever made a first day faux pas?

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Finding Job References

I’ve had a few questions in the past weeks about references:

I went online to apply for a job. I was able to fill everything out on a job application except for a reference list. The application requires that I list three references with name, phone number, and email. I do not have that kind of information to give, especially email address. I cannot submit application without all the required information for references. How can I work past this issue?

Multiracial Thumbs Up Against Blue SkyDear, No References,

You need to get some younger “Millennial” friends with computers! Other people who may not have ready references include:

  • Young workers
  • Recent graduates
  • Stay-at-home parents or caregivers entering or reentering workforce
  • Employees terminated from one or more jobs
  • Bridge burners (you stormed out, or just didn’t appear for work one day without giving notice)
  • Self-employed individuals

Are references required fields in the application? If you cannot submit your application without filling in all of the blanks, try entering “N/A” (for Not Available) or type in “Upon Request.”  While some applications specifically request “professional” references, personal or character references may be accepted by other companies.

The professional references that hold the most sway are former supervisors. Peers or coworkers who can attest to your work ethic are also suitable references. Testimonials from clients or customers would also be impressive, especially for self-employed entrepreneurs seeking jobs.

Job_Reference_MemeIf you don’t have a bevy of professional references, find character references from other acquaintances. Teachers, college professors, or guidance counselors are great references for students and recent grads. Members of civic groups, church, or volunteer organizations may be able to attest to your attributes that would be work-relevant. As a last resort, use personal references, but definitely not your mother, your fiancé, and preferably not your BFF (unless he’s the president of an impressive multinational corporation). Think of your accountant who does your taxes, your landlord, or the long-time family friend who is an upstanding business owner in the community.

Be sure to ask these individuals for permission to include them on applications and your reference list. Ask “Do you feel you know me well enough to provide me with a good job reference?” This gives the person an out if they are uncomfortable vouching for you.

One final note: do not include your references on your résumé. In our online world of searchable job boards, it’s a privacy issue.  When you do provide contact information, give work phone numbers and emails rather than personal whenever possible.

Dear, Anita,

On an employment application, is it appropriate to list Human Resource department, along with that office phone number, in cases where the company is a “branch” location and the corporate office is located in another area (i.e., city or state) or if your direct manager/supervisor is no longer employed by that company?

Dear, Long Gone,

I think that is wise, as the HR department can at least verify your dates of employment. If you have kept in touch with your direct supervisor (and he can give you a glowing recommendation), you may want to use him as a reference with his new contact information.

If you’re out of touch, search for former managers and coworkers on Google or LinkedIn. It’s a good networking practice to stay connected with folks from past jobs – before you want a favor like a recommendation letter. After you reconnect on LinkedIn, endorse skills in which your ex-colleagues excelled, and ask for endorsements in return. In addition to traditional reference checks, many HR departments routinely check social media.

Readers: Who was your most “creative” job reference?

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Boomers vs. Millennials – The New Cold War

Dear Anita,

My husband and I have been in the workforce for quite some time. We had never had problems getting along with everybody in the past. There is a new generation, however, the Milleniums (I apologize if it is not spelled correctly) that have entered the workforce with disregard and disrespect of any person with more experience than them. We welcome any new employee and are willing to help them. This is not just the cockiness of young people that are coming out of college and think they know it all. This generation is different and we are having a hard time working with them. Do you have any suggestions on how to interact with them? Have you had other people with this problem?

Boomer Millennial conflictDear, Bothered Boomer,

Workforces may consist of a mix of generations, from Matures (also called Traditionalists) born before 1945, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (1965-1979), Millennials (1980-2000), and the up-and-coming generation born after 2001 (as yet not officially named – The Post Generation? Homelanders? Generation Z? iGen?). By 2020, according to the University of North Carolina (UNC), Millennials will comprise nearly half of the U.S. labor workforce.

A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management  finds that nearly three-quarters of HR professionals report some level of intergenerational conflict.  “Can’t we all just get along?” (This Rodney King reference is before the Millennials’ time.)

Millennials’ top 3 complaints about older workers:

  • Resistance to change
  • Low recognition of workers’ efforts
  • Micromanaging

Younger workers are criticized most for:

  • Inappropriate dress
  • Poor work ethic
  • Excessively informal language and behavior

UNC likens Boomers and Gen Xers to cowboys – an individualistic lot with a command and control management style. Millennials are tech-savvy, socially conscious collaborators. According to PayScale’s whitepaper, Compensation Challenges for a Multi-Generational Workforce, Boomer’s career mindset is retirement and work/life balance, while younger Gen X concentrates on management with work/life balance. Millennials are go-getters focused on advancement with flexibility. Boomers tend to stay on the job 15+ years, Gen Xers’ average tenure is around 5+ years, and Millennials stay 1.5-2 years.

But there are some commonalities, according to UNC researcher Ben Rosen. Generations from Boomers down to Millennials expect the following from their employers:

  • Multigenerational_Employees_iStock_000015633250_LargeChallenging projects
  • Competitive compensation
  • Opportunities for advancement and chances to learn and grow in their jobs
  • Fair treatment
  • Work-life balance

By focusing on shared values rather than differences, we can find some common ground. Mutual respect is the key. Each generation can bring something to the mix and create a stronger team.

To improve interactions with another generation, treat others as they want to be treated, to paraphrase the golden rule (before any of our studied generations’ time!). For pointers on Gen-Flexing (not to be confused with genuflecting), check out this video on managing Matures and Boomers, then view Part 2 for Gen X and Millennials:

Readers: Is there generational conflict at your workplace? What steps have you taken to better relate to an older or younger coworker?

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Micromanaged

Take Advantage of the Outsourcing Trend

Dear, Anita,

I’ve seen in a couple of different places that 33% of businesses will be outsourcing employment. Is this why I can’t find work? Are all the good jobs going overseas? Do I have to give up stability and benefits and become a freelancer to make a living?

Dear, Third Degree,

I found the source of the statistic to which you are referring.  A survey by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) reports that in the next five years, more than a third of organizations expect half of their workforce will be made up of external talent.

But you don’t need to become a freelancer or a consultant to get in on this action. Staffing Industry Analysts touts U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers that show the increase in temporary positions.

Temp Stats Source: Staffing Industry Analysts

 

To understand this trend, take a look back at recent history. The Great Recession between 2007 and 2009 forced employers to lay off workers by the millions (according to the BLS, 8.8 million jobs were lost in the U.S.). Businesses are understandably cautious about adding jobs, particularly smaller companies who may find recent Affordable Care Act mandates expensive to implement.

Enter employment agencies. Staffing agencies specialize in one or more of three areas: temporary staffing services, personnel placement (often in a specific industry), and executive recruiting. The Select Family of Staffing Companies offers temporary jobs, temp-to-hire positions, or full-time job opportunities.

How Job Seekers Work with Temporary Agencies

A temporary staffing agency actually has two types of clients that it matches up: businesses needing staff and job seekers needing employment. We’ll just look at the job seeker side here.

Inventory_iStock_000017376317_SmallAfter completing an application and proving work eligibility documentation, you’ll likely go through some assessments, skills testing, and interviews to determine your suitability for placement. Once accepted, the staffing company will try to fit your skills with requirements from area employers who may need a temporary for anywhere from a day or two to a long-term temporary assignment (that’s an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp”).  Businesses often have seasons when they need to ramp up production – think of accounting offices in the first quarter of the year or retail stores taking inventory before year-end.

You’ll actually be an employee of the staffing agency, who will provide your paycheck and take out the appropriate withholding and taxes.  Fees are paid by the hiring companies, so there are no out-of-pocket costs for you (except for your snazzy interview outfit!). Employees are eligible for health care benefits – not from the client company, but from the staffing agency.

Temping is for you if you like a flexible schedule, enjoy diversity of tasks and working environments, need an entrance into a new company or job type, or want to use and increase your current job skills.

Temps: What made you choose to work with a staffing agency?

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Move for Money?

Anita,

I heard on the news that lots of states now have higher minimum wages. Should I quit my entry-level job and move to one of these states to make more money?

Dear, Show Me the Money,

MoneyIt is true that there have been a number of states, as well as cities, who have adopted legislation raising their minimum wage above the Federal mandate.  Eleven states increased their minimum wages in 2014, and as of January 1, 2015 nine more states joined them — for a grand total of 29 states with higher than the current $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some states have scheduled increases, stepping it up gradually. See the list by state.

Before giving your notice, do your homework. Moving to another state is a big step, especially if you don’t have a support system of family and friends in your new hometown. There may be a period of unemployment while settling in, unless you are fortunate enough to work for a large company where transferring to another location is an option. Are you financially prepared with a cushion of savings for a transition period with no income?

Speaking of budgeting, the cost of living in a potential city should be a deciding factor. For instance, while San Francisco’s $11.05 hourly pay rate is higher than the minimum wage for most of California and the U.S., you’ll shell out a whole lot more of your paycheck in the city by the bay. Numbeo has a useful online cost of living comparison  tool that can open your eyes to things you might not think about, like the difference in your monthly utilities or the cost of chicken breasts at the supermarket.  State income taxes vary, too, from no state income tax in six states like Texas, to the highest rate of 13.3% in California. This calculator at WhyNotMove.org uses the difference in various taxes (including property and sales tax) to show you how much you will gain – or lose – by moving to another state.

Change – even for the good – is always stressful.  If and when you do find a new job, you’ll be the “new guy” both at work and in your personal life, hundreds or thousands of miles away from your former home.  Depending on your personality type, this can be the beginning of an exciting adventure or an overwhelming transition.

There are other ways to increase your earning potential, no matter where you live. Further your education, whether through college, a company training program (ask your supervisor about opportunities), or free and low-cost courses on the Internet. See my Back to Class post. Just going the extra mile at your current job can be a pathway to promotion and increased wages.

Readers: Would you move to another state to make better wages?

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Very Superstitious


Dear, Anita,

I manage the business development team, and I have one otherwise stellar sales rep who is superstitious to a fault. Just this week, he refused to book a flight back from a client presentation on Friday, the 13th and cost the company an extra $120 for an alternate flight on Saturday. What recourse do I have?

SuperstitionsDear, Stevie Wondering,

The writing’s on the wall – and there’s probably not much you can do to erase this grown man’s irrational fears. Heck, as many as 85% of buildings skip from the 12th to the 14th floor. Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) coupled with an ages-old notion that Friday is an unlucky day to begin a journey or project lead to this superstition that survives to this day for 17-21 million people.

Friday the 13th is known as Black Friday in some countries – but not in the out-of-the-red-and-into-profitability denoted by the retail industry in the United States. American businesses actually lose $800-$900 million on Fridays that fall on the 13th, according to Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.

Depending on the stringency of your company’s travel policy, you could require your employee to reimburse you for the difference in airfare. Since you mention that this salesperson is otherwise superior, I would cut him a little slack. We all have our idiosyncrasies. Who hasn’t crossed our fingers to wish for little good fortune? A ladder is much easier to walk around than under – just in case. A coworker may comment that we shouldn’t “jinx” a project by saying how smoothly it’s going. Maybe you have your own “power suit” or lucky tie that you always wear to interviews or important meetings.  Some of the most successful professional athletes have their own superstitious rituals that their managers indulge, and fans celebrate.

Unfortunately, there are two more Friday the 13ths this year – in March and November. So stock up on four-leaf clovers and rabbits’ feet and hope your rainmaker’s sales can weather 2015. Knock on wood.

Readers: What are you superstitious about that might affect your job performance?

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Functional Format for Résumés

Dear Anita –

I’m unemployed and job hunting. My work experience is in many different areas – Purchasing, Product Management, Operations, HR & Training, Management, Executive Assistant and Accounting. The areas with the most recent experience are probably not the areas I want to pursue. What’s the best way to find a job in a field that I’ve been out of for 7 years or more? What types of résumés work best for this kind of job search? Will I even be considered if my experience isn’t recent?

Multiple_Job_Functions(Small)Dear, Jack of All Trades,

You may want to try a functional résumé format (arranging content according to skills) rather than the traditional reverse chronological listing of your experience.

Who should try this? This format is best suited for:

  • Individuals with multi-industry careers
  • Job seekers wanting to change careers
  • Employees who have held many diverse positions
  • Recent grads with little or no job experience
  • Stay-at-home moms/dads or caretakers of aging parents trying to reenter the workforce
  • Those terminated from position(s)
  • Long-term unemployed wanting to make their gap in employment less noticeable.
  • Older workers who wish to deemphasize a long employment history

So, how do you transform your reverse chronology into a skills-based résumé? First, select the skills that you want to highlight for your desired position. Choose 3-5 broad competencies that you can back up with an impressive number of bullet points. Then using the power phrases I taught you in Better Résumé Words, describe your experience and accomplishments. Remember, this is not chronological, so don’t get hung up when you are mixing and matching proficiencies from multiple positions.

End with a simple listing of companies and dates for Employment History (technically making this a hybrid of functional and traditional résumés). Include Education, if applicable.

Resume_Functional_0115
The functional/skills-based résumé style is not without its drawbacks, however. Hiring managers may feel like you are trying to hide something – like a gap in your employment history. Note that in our example résumé, only the years are given, which could hide a few months of unemployment, but not large periods such as child-rearing or caregiving for a family member with a lengthy illness.

Another potential hurdle is getting a non-traditional format through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) so many companies now use to screen applications. Résumé parsing is how the ATS software scans documents (as well as search engines, career websites, and social media) for keywords to populate its applicant database fields without manual entry. While advances in syntactic and semantic parsing are becoming more prevalent among ATS programs, some algorithms may still get confused when they “read” information in a different form than expected. While it will transpose the commonly titled “Experience” easily, it may not find an appropriate field to place your ambiguous “Training” skills header. So don’t offend further with any fancy formatting on a non-traditional résumé. Stick to basic fonts like Ariel, Times, Tahoma, and the like, and swap those bullets on your printed resume with an asterisk (*) or simple dash (-) to prevent them from being converted to strange symbols.

Readers: Have you used a non-traditional résumé format with success?

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Keeping Employees Happy

Dear, Anita,

I have a hunch that one of my direct reports may be looking for another job. I’d really hate to lose her, as she is so dependable and, after being with us for four years, really knows the ins and outs of the business. We did give her a 3% raise about 5 months ago, so it’s too early to give her another pay bump. What else can our company do to keep her happy here?

Dear, Sweating Bullets,

There are numerous studies on the reasons that people leave their jobs. I won’t make you feel terrible by quoting “The Savage Truth” blog: “It’s not the company they are leaving. It’s you.” Whoopsie.

Most managers assume it’s about the money. PricewaterhouseCoopers found that compensation was actually number 3 on the list, with limited career/promotion opportunities and lack of respect/support from supervisors as number 1 and 2, respectively.  A survey by Staffing Industry Analysts found the top three reasons employees left a staffing job were bad management, bad environment, and a lack of opportunity. Entrepreneur cites advancement, work/life balance, and money as the top 3 reasons people leave jobs.

So what can you do to manage your team in a positive environment where workers feel valued and have room for professional growth?

It may be helpful to look at businesses people are dying to work for — such as Google, named a “Best Place To Work” by Fortune and Glassdoor’s 2015 Employees’ Choice Awards. Not every company can offer on-site haircuts and dry-cleaning, subsidized massages, and rec rooms equipped with foosball and video games, but there are feasible things you can do. I_Love_My_Job_SmallWhen Google changed its maternity leave from a 12-week plan to 5 months taken at the new mom’s discretion, the attrition rate for new mothers reduced by 50%. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the cost to replace and hire new staff is estimated to be 60 percent of an employee’s annual salary. That may be reason enough to keep your current employees satisfied.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) suggests employee incentive programs such as flex time, workplace wellness programs, project completion perks, and corporate memberships.

You didn’t mention your employee’s age, but Generation X may want different perks and purpose than their predecessors. According to researchers Charlotte and Laura Shelton, 51% of Gen Xers said they’d quit if another employer offered them the chance to telecommute and 61% of Gen X women would leave their current jobs if they were offered more flexible hours elsewhere. The top 3 things Gen X want in a job: positive relationships with colleagues, interesting work, and opportunities for learning.

You’ll have to probe to determine what the silver bullet is for this particular staffer and see if your company is willing to make changes not just for her, but to increase employee retention in the future.

Readers: If you were considering leaving your job, what could your employer offer that would make a difference?

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Stay or Quit?

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been unhappy at my current job for a while. I am butting heads with my moody supervisor, and the daily grind (not to mention the commute) is getting me down. But I make decent money and have pretty good benefits. How do I decide whether to stick it out or quit?

Dear, On the Fence,
IOn_the_Fence_iStock_000009524325_Smallf, like The Clash, you are asking yourself “Should I stay or should I go?,” take the time to write a list of the positives and negatives. Sometimes the grass looks greener elsewhere because you are stewing on the few aspects of your job that get you down instead of ruminating on all the plusses. Putting it down on paper – or in Excel – may lead to a visual “aha” moment.

An online decision tool like helpMYdecision adds weight to each factor in the choice. Are your salary and benefits extremely important (10) or not very (1)? (Answer this after looking at your monthly bills.) Does working at something meaningful rank higher than money for you? Is a more cooperative relationship with a boss a 7, a shorter commute a 5 or an 8? Does having an office with a window versus a cubicle not matter at all to you? After weighting the determinants, rate your current situation then let the computer give you its “Best Choice.”  Sometimes, when we ask advice, we are really just seeking validation for the choice we’ve subconsciously made. So take notice if you think hooray! when the decision appears, or if you feel disappointed. Then go with your gut.

Manager_Employee_Serious_SpeakIf you’ve decided to stay, see what you can do to repair your relationship with your boss. Relationships are based on trust. Can your boss count on you to do your assigned tasks? It’s even better if you “go the extra mile.” It’s your job to make your supervisor look good to her superiors and/or customers.  Perhaps her bad moods crop up after she’s had an unpleasant interaction with her boss over problems or productivity issues.  She’s only human and may unwittingly take it out on those around her. Try the “kill her with kindness” approach, no matter her mood. Find something – anything – to compliment. It may not happen overnight, but you may be surprised how a little positivity can change a relationship or an entire workplace.

If and when you leave your current job, don’t burn any bridges. Use that 2-week notice timeframe to tie up any loose ends and leave your replacement with an organized desk and files. Telling your supervisor exactly what you think of her management style on your last day won’t really help you or her.

But don’t leave until you’ve found another position. It’s easier to find a job if you have a job (there’s some psychology at play – if you’re currently employed, you’re obviously a desirable hire.)  And it may take you longer than you think to obtain better employment. Keep your pro and con list in mind when searching for a new job to keep from jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Readers: Are you contemplating quitting your job? Why?

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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