The Employee’s First 90 Days: First Impressions of Managers Matter

If you took a psychology class in high school or college, odds are you learned about imprinting; i.e., how newly hatched ducks and goslings will become socially bonded to the first moving object they encounter.  This bond seemed to only develop during a brief “critical period” in the first day or so after hatching; if the baby duck missed the opportunity to bond, it was lost forever.

While humans are much more complex, it seems that new hires have a “critical period,” too, particularly when it comes to forming ideas about organizational fairness.  Forty-five percent of employees who decide to voluntarily terminate their employment relationship decide to do during the first ninety days of employment.  In short, they fail to bond.

When new employees are deciding how much to invest in the employment relationship, they use fairness judgments as decision shortcuts.  These fairness judgments form early and quickly in the employment relationship and then are simply accessed, rather than revised, unless there is some clear and substantial indication of change in the relationship.  Thus, it may be assumed that fairness-relevant information has especially strung effects on fairness judgments when it is occurring.  In fact, the first relevant information will exercise the greatest influence on feelings of overall fair treatment.

Experiments that have varied fairness treatment confirm the importance of first interactions.  For example, even though participants received the same number of positive and negative fairness experiences, those who encountered the unfair experience in their relationships with their supervisor viewed the supervisor as much more unfair than did those who encountered the unfair experience later.  It seems that early fairness judgments are especially potent and there is a substantial level of inertia in changing these judgments.

We now know that imprinting occurs in many species, including humans, and that it involves much more plastic and forgiving mechanisms than were initially claimed by Lorenz.  However, the first impression is still a strong one, and savvy human resource executives capitalize on this new hire bonding opportunity by creating a new employee orientation program that is most likely to inspire organizational loyalty and commitment.

New Hire Bonding Strategies

  • Make sure your new hire orientation program lasts at least ninety days.
  • Consider setting up a new-hire mentoring program during which a seasoned employee is available to answer questions, introduce the new hire to his or her peer group, and acquaint him or her with informal networks.
  • If you have a diverse employee base, spend extra time indoctrinating new hires into your corporate culture, instilling corporate values, and getting them involved in social groups.  Companies like Nokia, with 48 countries represented at one location, overcome many of their multicultural challenges by teaching new employees the “Nokian way.”
  • Teach your managers’ interpersonal skills, with a specific emphasis on how to establish performance agreements, mentor and coach new hires, and communicating various career tracts at the outset of employment.

John C. Maxwell of Injoy once said that all leadership is influence.  The first 90 days of an employee’s job offer a manager a unique opportunity to help his/her subordinate bond with the organization, get to know coworkers, and plant the seeds of loyalty and commitment.

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