I was so excited for my first day. My new employer was a fast-growing communication firm and the CEO had courted me hard for almost six months. I was fully engaged on day one, looking forward to making new friends and making an impact.
When I arrived in the morning I introduced myself to the receptionist and asked for my new boss, Ned.
“Uhm, who are you with?” the receptionist asked.
“Oh, I work here,” I smiled. “It’s my first day.”
“Have a seat,” she frowned. From the lobby couch, I watched as she whispered into the phone. Something was…off.
I waited for about twenty minutes, and then the head of HR appeared. “Hi, Kevin. Ned isn’t in today, he’s in Europe at a conference. So I’ll get you settled.”
Not in? Huh. Oh well, no big deal.
“Follow me,” HR said. “Things have been really crazy lately so we don’t have a space for you just yet, hopefully you don’t mind sitting in the conference room for a few days.”
And it got worse from there.
First Impressions Count
It’s been said that you never get a second chance to make a great first impression and that is true with on-boarding too. As reported by the Society of Human Resource Management, new employees who go through a structured on-boarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years, and companies with a good on-boarding process experience 50% greater new-hire productivity.
And practically speaking, your first-day experience is a microcosm of what your career experience will be like. It’s a focused snapshot of the culture of the company. Are they organized, or winging it? Are people friendly and interested in you, or are they focused on their tasks and hitting the next deadline. Are they social, or loners? Do people have the tools they need to be successful, or not?
How a company treats new employees on their very first day ultimately makes a statement about whether they value talent or not. Do they value you, or not? Look for these signs that you may have just joined the wrong company.
#1 Your Manager Doesn’t Spend Time With You
If you show up on your first day of work and your boss isn’t there, or is too busy to meet with you, or shakes your hand and quickly hands you off to HR, you might need to resign after your first day of work.
Gallup research shows that 70% of the variance in employee engagement is tied back to the manager. Nothing matters more to how we feel about work. And great leaders know that nothing is more important than talent. Get the right people in the right seats on the bus, to paraphrase Jim Collins.
Great leaders know to select your start date on a day when they are going to be in the office, and available to spend time with you. They don’t need to spend the whole day with you, in fact, that’s counterproductive, but they need to schedule time to welcome you, have an important “first conversation” (see my article here on how U.S. Navy Commander Curtis uses a map on the wall for his first conversations), and to check-in at the end of the day.
#2 Your Workspace Isn’t Ready (Neither Is Your Email Address)
If you show up on your first day of work and they don’t have anywhere to put you, you might need to resign after your first day of work.
These days your working space might be an office, a cube, or a first-come first-serve “hot desk.” Regardless, it’s a red flag if your new employer didn’t prioritize where you would sit. Yes, it’s not easy. There are many excuses: an existing employee might need to be moved out of an office, they’re going through a re-org, waiting on IT to activate. The bottom line is that they chose other things to prioritize than you.
Great organizations not only have a workspace ready to go, but they make it a special place. If you want to see examples of what great looks like, just do a Google image search on “first-day welcome desk.” Examples include:
- FanDuel gives new employees branded hoodies, notebooks, and office supplies
- Zumper gives out a gym bag filled with branded clothing, notebooks, stickers and more
- Clear, a marketing consultancy, greets new employees with flowers, notebooks and tea
- Salesforce mixes it up with nerf guns and business books in addition to the obligatory t-shirts
Companies don’t need to spend a lot of money on welcome kits to show how much they appreciate you. In fact, things that take time and thoughtfulness may have a greater impact:
- A welcome card signed by all of your new team members
- A welcome sign with your name on it in the lobby and/or at your desk
- A stack of take-out menus from the local restaurants to help you get to know the neighborhood eateries
- A box donuts on your desk—you just know you’ll meet everyone on the team that way
- A copy of the CEOs favorite book
#3 They Talk About Policies But Not Mission, Vision, and Values
If you show up on your first day of work and all your time is spent on HR paperwork, the dress code, the hours, and the rules, you might need to resign after your first day of work.
Yes, new hire paperwork needs to be completed, but ideally, most of it is completed before your first day of work or is done at the very end of your day.
You can tell what someone cares about by what they spend their time on. If the company is spending your first day focused on rules, regulations, and procedures, you can expect more of the same throughout your time there. If they care about their vision, they’ll talk about it. If they care about their mission, they’ll find a way for you to engage with it from the start. If they care about their values, they’ll find fun ways to help you to remember and relate to them.
As goes your first day, will go the rest of your career in that company. Do you see signs that they value employees? Do you see signs that they care about mission, not just money? Do you see signs that your manager realizes that talent is the most important variable to success and that the health of the team is the priority of the team?
If the answers to these questions are all no, you may have made a mistake in accepting the job offer; they may have misrepresented themselves during the recruiting process. If you also had a competing offer from another company, you may want to immediately call them back, beg forgiveness, and ask if they’ll reinstate their offer. Either way, for the sake of your mental health and long-term career, you should look for a new opportunity as soon as possible.