We’re told that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. But that doesn’t mean we leave the womb knowing all of society’s rules for civil engagement. We don’t. As such (and as any parent or caretaker would readily attest), we require socialization. (Remember Tarzan? He lacked socialization, poor thing.)
Through the socialization process, we learn the rules of our households — as well as our schools, churches, neighborhoods, and society at large.
And then we grow up and enter the workforce.
That’s Not How We Do Things Here!
The Workplace (with a capital W) has rules. When employers complain that millennials lack soft skills, I suspect what they really mean is millennials aren’t demonstrating a knowledge of the rules, such as follow the chain of command, keep your manager informed, have your manager’s back, be willing to pay your dues without squawking, and so on. These rules apply to most every workplace, but each workplace also has its own rules unique to the personality or culture of the organization.
For example, in your company, do employees keep their office doors (assuming they still have office doors) open or closed? Is working from home frowned upon or encouraged? If an employee needs a peer’s help with a project, are they allowed to approach the peer directly, or must they clear it with their manager, who’ll then approach the peer’s manager? Rules, rules, rules!
Now here’s another question. How do your new employees learn your rules?
Socialization and the Employee Onboarding Process
Workplace socialization, which is critical to employee success, is crucial during the onboarding phase. According to a study by Equifax, 40% of employees who voluntarily quit their jobs in 2013 did so within six months of hire.
Unfortunately, too many think of onboarding as a one-time event owned by HR, when in fact, employee onboarding is a months-long process owned by the entire organization.
Think of it like this: as a parent, you wouldn’t sit down with Mike Jr., give him a handbook of all the household rules, and then call it a day, right? And, you’d want the other authority figures in Mike’s life to reinforce the household rules, now wouldn’t you? In fact, I’m guessing you’d be miffed if they didn’t.
So while HR definitely has its role to play in the onboarding process, so does the employee’s manager, the employee’s peers, and ultimately, top leadership, who sets the tone for the company’s culture while modeling behavior for what’s really acceptable.
Here are some specific onboarding/socialization tips for success:
01. Keep an open door
HR has forms and a handbook, and that’s good. New employees need those. But HR also has something else: inside knowledge of your company culture. Are we suggesting HR spill the beans about the “difficult” Accounting Manager nobody wants to work with? Heaven forbid!
However, HR can state its willingness to discuss any employee concerns that may crop up during the probationary period and beyond. Trust us, it’s better for HR to leave the door open now than for the employee to quit abruptly because he or she didn’t feel heard.
02. Get buy-in from your key players
Most managers today don’t have the luxury of restricting their activity to developing others. Still, if you’re serious about employee success, “real work” can’t be an excuse for haphazard socialization. Everyone has to set aside time for the process, which must be openly supported by top leadership.
03. Enlist a buddy — for the new employee, that is
Buddy systems pair new employees with veteran employees, who show newbies the ropes while being available to answer questions that might be too embarrassing to ask the boss.
04. Arrange a departmental lunch
Welcome your new hire with a meal in their honor. Invite the entire team and keep the tone professional but friendly.
05. Encourage office friendships
This is more about what not to do than what to do. While socializing that takes away from productivity is something to keep an eye on, don’t criticize your new hire for talking too much! Give them the time to develop relationships within the organization. Those relationships are important to employee happiness, and they form the foundation for cooperative interactions.
The Benefits of Mindful Workplace Socialization
Perhaps you’re still not convinced employee socialization is worth managing. After all, your employees will learn how things are done in your company with or without your oversight.
That’s true, but when you mindfully manage the socialization process, you ensure your new hires learn what you want them to learn and not what Disgruntled Don, Incompetent Irene, and Shortcut Sam would have them believe.
Of course, there’s always the possibility your new hire will model themselves after Rock Star Renee, but why leave that to chance?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.