Fitting In During the First 90 Days

Friday, May 16, 2014

It's a common adage that first impressions matter, particularly when starting a new job. Your statements and behaviors in the first few months all determine how you'll fit in and the level of success you'll find.

What's not as commonly acknowledged, however, is the effect coworkers and supervisors have on a fresh hire. Associate Professor John Kammeyer-Mueller and Professor Connie Wanberg explored that often-overlooked topic in a recent paper that detailed the experiences of 264 organizational newcomers.

One of their biggest findings? Coworkers and supervisors have a profound effect on new hires--but not necessarily in the same manner. "Coworker support is important--it can make a new hire feel engaged and capable," says Kammeyer-Mueller. "But it isn't the biggest predictor of whether an individual will quit or remain with the company."

According to the research, that responsibility rests largely with supervisors. "We found supervisors have enormous influence on whether people quit or not," Kammeyer-Mueller adds. "We also found that deliberate undermining of new hires by supervisors was the biggest predictor of early turnover."

Such deliberate undermining by a supervisor seems hard to fathom, but many new hires have probably sensed it, such as when information is withheld or hostile criticism is used. Many new hires have also sensed that social and informational support diminishes rather quickly. The research confirms that hunch--and also finds that companies often leave new employees to sink or swim far too soon (often after two or three weeks), which is another factor that affects an individual's decision to stay or leave.

One takeaway: Companies should take steps to minimize supervisor and coworker undermining. "New hires need support over the first 90 days," says Kammeyer-Mueller. "When it's taken away, they can feel isolated and become withdrawn."

Given the steep costs of recruiting and onboarding (not to mention the link between low productivity and low employee morale), companies would be wise to follow such advice.

"Support, Undermining, and Newcomer Socialization: Fitting in During the First 90 Days"
Kammeyer-Mueller, J.D., Wanberg, C.R., et al., Academy of Management Journal, (in press)