Communicating With Employees From Start To Finish
Usually our articles discuss specific methods of communicating with your employees that occur only formally and episodically: things like job descriptions, resumes, interviews, job offers, and acceptances. But the responsibility for open communication only begins there. This article wants to emphasize that, in fact, open communication is one of the foremost determinants of success at virtually every stage of the employer-employee relationship. And moreover, to be truly effective, it must be a bilateral process, since the responsibility for communicating effectively lies squarely on both sides.
One of your first and foremost communication tasks as an employer is effectively integrating a new employee into your company. To achieve a satisfying outcome for all concerned, this responsibility must be handled methodically each and every time you hire. At the very least, before all new employees’ first day at your company, you must make sure they’re fully apprised of the following essentials:
- Work hours
- Salary, pay schedule, benefits package, and the paperwork required to initiate them
- Vacation entitlement and sick-day allowance
- Where to park
- Which entrance to use
- Where to go once inside
- With whom to connect on arrival
- Dress code
- Schedule for breaks and lunch
- An outline of what will happen during their first day, first week, and first month, including who will be training the new employee, and how and when the training will occur.
Human-resources jargon calls this kind of introductory process “onboarding”, meaning a procedure for orienting and inducting a new employee into the hiring company’s mainstream. Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression, your business should make absolutely sure that new hires feel welcomed, valued, and prepared for what lies ahead. Ideally, a veteran from your staff should be assigned to perform these functions, including welcoming new employees, showing them the ropes, fielding basic questions, and making introductions to other staff. By welcoming the whole person rather than just a reviewing a set of job functions, you will help new hires to assimilate more quickly and eagerly into your corporate culture. Further benefits of effective onboarding include improving retention of new hires, building your brand as an employer of choice, and reducing your legal exposure if anything goes wrong.
Some companies advocate formal entrance interviews, meaning a series of official meetings with a new employee that are scheduled at intervals during the employee’s specified trial period. (Typically a trial period lasts 3 months, or 6 months for more complex positions.) Although the scheduling of these interviews may be flexible according to circumstances, a suggested timetable might proceed as follows:
- First meeting held within the first few days of employment to set expectations on both sides and ensure that the new hire is appropriately informed about the essentials of their job, who’s who in the corporate hierarchy, and standard working conditions, policies and procedures.
- Two subsequent interviews to assess the employee’s incremental stages of job performance, training, and interdepartmental interactions, as well as provide appropriate support as needed. For 3-month trial periods, the interviews should be one month apart; two months apart for 6-month trial periods.
At PrintLink we feel that one of the best uses of entrance interviews is to encourage open two-way dialogue, thus setting the tone for continual effective communication throughout the employee’s tenure. Early on, newcomers who are definite keepers - or, better still, ones with advancement potentia - will justify themselves as employees not only through their job performance, but also their behaviour during entrance interviews; for example, by making proactive suggestions or demonstrating a willingness and aptitude to learn.
Within reasonable limits, entrance interviews also give employers the opportunity to discuss new employee’s experiences as novices and elicit their feedback on how successfully their integration into the company is being managed. For example, new staff may be able to provide insight into which onboarding methods used in a particular department work and which could be improved. But at the same time, whoever leads the interview must subordinate any such issues to the far more telling and important question: can the new employee quickly become a productive and co-operative member of your company’s staff ? Thus, interviewers may have to remind new employees whose complaints detract from this fundamental question that the goal of the entrance interview is entirely positive and practical: to effect a successful onboarding. It is not to point fingers at existing personnel, critique the company, or pander to the new employee’s sense of entitlement.
Above all, in assessing the results of any entrance interview, keep in mind that successful integration into the workplace is a two-way street. A major onus rests on the new employee to play an active part. Has he or she been constructive, adaptive, inquisitive, creative, and proactive in the process—and how?
Unfortunately, once the trial period is over and the new employee becomes an official “insider”, communication often lapses - despite the fact that today’s employees require more information than ever to help them keep pace with faster rates of change in businesses, marketplaces, and customer demands. Generally, staff like to know what their management is doing to stay current and what they can do, specifically, to help make a difference. Yet recent studies show only 52% of employees feel they know how their jobs promote company objectives. The lesson of this statistic is that employers need to keep communicating their company’s goals and strategies to staff regularly. In doing so, you not only keep staff engaged but also give them the information they need to tailor their daily actions to support your initiatives. Informal channels are as essential to communicating with staff as formal meetings and performance reviews. “Management by walking around” is one leadership technique that fosters both mutual communication and esprit de corps. Another is encouraging and empowering staff to contribute ideas for improving your operations, using well-thought-out reasons to substantiate their points of view. In exchange, management needs to provide them with meaningful feedback, including an explanation of how their input was considered or acted upon (or if not, why not.)
We recommend conducting exit interviews both with employees who have chosen to leave and those who have been asked to leave. Exit interviews are particularly useful for two reasons: (1) to provide valuable insights for hiring a replacement; and (2) to uncover any adverse factors that may be driving valuable employees away unnecessarily. Such factors range widely from work environment, day-to-day job concerns, or substandard compensation to unsupportive management, shaky corporate ethics, poor staff morale, or toxic co-workers. We find that special care is necessary to interview candidates sensitively and creatively to determine their real reasons for leaving their jobs, since at first they are sometimes reticent about their true motives. But by delving successfully beneath the surface, you can not only uncover the root cause for their departure, but also the opportunity to fix any adverse factors that may be driving staff away.
Since honest feedback is your goal, it helps to conduct exit interviews in private by a neutral interviewer, such as a human-resources manager or person from an outside organization, who has the best chance of making subjects feel comfortable enough to speak their minds. Interviewees should also be told up front that their comments will not be used against them but rather to help the company gain information on current working conditions, retain future employees, and recruit new personnel.
Things to ask in a typical exit interview include:
- Why employees are leaving
- What they liked most and least about the company or department
- What they liked most and least about their job. Try to solicit maximum details on the job functions and skill sets of the person who is quitting, as this information will be especially helpful in compiling your list of requirements for hiring a replacement. Conversely, the person who has been fired may help you compile an equally useful list of attributes to avoid! Be prepared for the possibility that some outgoing employees will turn the exit interview into a gripe session. In this event, allow them to vent for a while, then turn the interview back on a constructive track by asking them how they would fix the problems they cited.
The bottom line is that communicating effectively with staff at all stages of their relationship with your company is an invaluable tool. Not only does it improve employee satisfaction, retention, and interpersonal relationships; but it is also a key to improving the procedures and working conditions that ultimately yield higher productivity and higher profits. And those results make effective communication with staff a win-win proposition all around.