Great first-day things for a new employee?
January 7, 2013 8:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm officially a supervisor. My first-ever subordinate starts tomorrow. What are some of the best things that great bosses have done or said on your first day? Specifics inside.

Unique details: Small-ish organization. When I arrived (lots of years ago) I was one of two co-workers, at equal levels on the official org chart, but expected to take direction from the more experienced guy. It worked very well.

When it was my turn as the pseudo-supervisor, the first of the pseudo-subordinates had a similar attitude and things once again worked well. The next one worked out so poorly for so long that we've changed the org chart and made me officially the supervisor to prevent anything similar. First official subordinate starts tomorrow.

Another thread here addresses some things great bosses do, what to do on your first day as a boss, etc. But what about your first day at a new job and the best things that bosses have done or said to set the tone and to help you like your job?

Most of all: is it even possible to set the tone so that I can be officially the boss without sacrificing the creativity and productivity we had when it was just two colleagues working toward a difficult goal? Impossible dream?
posted by wjm to Work & Money (30 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Set clear expectations.
posted by empath at 8:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

The best thing a manager ever said to me on my first day under him was "If you have problems with x, y, or z, come straight to me and I will solve them. Those are my problems, not yours." That really helped establish, not the power hierarchy, but the division of roles between us.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [22 favorites]

I have memories of something that a new semi-supervisor did on the first day (and followed up with) that set the tone for me. I really respected the person from the start and would go above and beyond if this person needed something as a result.

Ask your employee if they have any other goals (besides the money making aspect) of the job. So for me, the new supervisor at the time asked:"Why was I currently a lab tech and where did I want to go in the future?" I was only a lab tech with a BA, but I identified areas of interest.

She followed up over the next few months by occasionally emailing or calling me to tell me about "Lecture X" occurring on day and time Y (areas that were consistent with my areas of interest). If she had samples that required mastering a new research technique, she let me observe, try it, etc.,because it was also identified it as an interest. This was a job in an academic setting obviously, but experience over the years at academic and nonacademic jobs have demonstrated that almost no one asks what you would like to get out of the place. Again, because of the rapport, I would go above and beyond for whatever that supervisor wanted or needed.
posted by Wolfster at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I had a wonderful manager who said very clearly, "You get the credit, I take the blame." And he acted that way and it meant a lot to me. When I started a new job, my new manager jokingly blamed me for something and I immediately thought of my former manager who would never do that, not even jokingly. My good manager said repeatedly that he wanted to clear things out of the way for his employees so they could do good work, and he did it, making us not only free to do good work but earning our loyalty.

Also, my husband used to buy stickers to put on his employee's performance reviews. He happened to hire a really great guy but it was pretty sweet when other people said, "But [his employee] got stickers ..." These were all adults but it cost my husband next to nothing and made him look good in front of his colleagues (everyone wants to work for the guy who puts stickers on your performance review!) and made his employee happy.
posted by kat518 at 8:59 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Take the person out to lunch, introduce the person to everyone, have a sense of humor, show the person around,let them know that they can ask you anything, have office supplies ready, chit chat a bit.
These may seem obvious but I'd say over half my jobs none of this was done for me on my first day.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:08 PM on January 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

"We only have one career limiting move here - not asking for help when you need it. No one gets in trouble here for recognizing they are over their heads. If you are, ask for help. "

Other than that, act like a co worker, don't act like a boss, don't ever use the word boss, it's petty and shallow. You are there to help them be effective, that's your job. Sometimes that means taking a couple of lumps for them, whether they deserve them or not, other times that means a candid word about things before things get worse. It's not a science.

posted by iamabot at 9:24 PM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Have work ready for them to do. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than starting a new job and twiddling your thumbs on the first day.
posted by Shebear at 9:42 PM on January 7, 2013 [20 favorites]

Setting expectations and reporting. I'm not saying you give them a bunch of tasks, but start going over whatever you'd like regularly, how they'd do reporting, etc. It can even be collaborative as you guys figure out what will work for both of you.

Making clear "Who do I go to when I need such and such a thing done" will usually save some significant ramp up time and also helps get their brain around how the organization works. And, again, it sets expectations. If you want them to go for you to everything, it saves you finding out they've been showing initiative and going directly to people. If you want them to show initiative and go directly to people, introducing them and giving them a sense of the organization will help that along.

A small thing but really annoying to me in a previous job: Make sure they are on whatever mailing lists and meeting lists they need to be on. I spent 6 months getting bitched at in one job because I was never in meetings I was supposed to be in, but my boss never told me I needed to be in those meetings, I wasn't on the mailing lists where they formed up and didn't know they existed because she was the only one who could've told me, etc., so I'd only find out about things when she came bursting into my office demanding to know why I hadn't done the thing assigned to me in the meeting I wasn't in.

If possible, have their area all set up for them with whatever basic equipment they need in place. A friend of mine showed up to her first day of work once and they didn't even have a desk for her. They hadn't even ordered a desk. It wasn't exactly encouraging. Likewise, I've spent entire first days basically spinning around in my chair while they scrambled around doing things they could've done anytime in the preceding 2-3 weeks like finding a computer and putting it together and setting it up. One nice thing an employer did for me once was take me down to Office Depot and let me pick my desk and chair out after I'd seen my office and had an idea of the space I had to work with, but they had a little more leeway since they were a small company.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:57 PM on January 7, 2013

For the first day or two: if there's any outstanding administrative/HR stuff that needs to be done, have it all ready for them to do. Make sure their desk/computer/etc is all set up. Set aside time to meet and show them around the first day. Have them sit in on any relevant calls/meetings. If possible, you should try not to have too much scheduled for yourself that day so you're available to them.

Have work ready for them to do. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than starting a new job and twiddling your thumbs on the first day.

Yesssssss. I've had a lot of jobs at this point, so I've gotten used to this, but it's really horrible when there's nothing to do the first few days, especially because you feel a heightened pressure to look busy and engaged, and it's not like you can leave early the first week.
posted by lunasol at 10:09 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll tell you what NOT to do: don't get your subordinate flowers. My manager had flowers brought to my cube when I started and while at first I thought this was a really sweet gesture since it was so unexpected, it emerged quickly that I was very allergic to the arrangement he'd gotten for me. I felt terrible that my first impression was as a sniffly mess who was getting up to throw away the nice flowers her manager had gotten her to welcome her to the team.
posted by town of cats at 10:17 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

The best boss I ever worked for explained it really well: His job was threefold:
1: Get the right people to do the work.
2: Get them the resources they need.
3: Get out of the way.

Part of his job was to run interference for us, limit the micro-managing from higher levels, help out with paperwork, and generally let our little team be the nerds we were meant to be.

For this to work, there had to be trust all around. If there was a mishap in the field, we needed to let him know *before* the customer called the owner and it came back at him via some other route. I screwed this up once, and he didn't protect me -- I suffered the full inquisition from all the higher-ups who had a score to settle. After that you bet I was forthcoming with the whole team!

Let's hope that doesn't apply 100% to your situation, but I figure you're in a better position to interpret the differences, so I'll just tell it as I understand it. :)
posted by Myself at 10:34 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't give them ancient equipment. Give them new stuff, but only if the rest of the team have fairly new stuff.
posted by devnull at 12:53 AM on January 8, 2013

I would say that for day one make sure that everything is in place for your new person.
Make sure you're available the whole day to fully induct them, but that said, have something light, but actually productive they can do in the afternoon.

Buy them lunch with you and some other people in the company. This way they will know people who aren't you.

Humans are used to living in social situations and not understanding the hierarchy is stressful, so be clear at first in your mind and then with them exactly how you want your relationship with them to be and try and get as much as that across. Once said human has figured out the tribal structure they will be much less stressed.

It may be a bit more complex if you're essentially co-workers, working on similar things, but I really like what myself said. Your job as boss is to get them what they want and clear the decks for them to work.
I've had bosses that made a big deal of us all pitching in on admin and organisational matters which really consider to be their job.

I like to think of it t his way:
The Engineers (or whatever) are there to do the job, but there is stuff in the way, so they hire a manager to work for them to get rid of that stuff. The mindset of the team working for the boss is all backwards.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:29 AM on January 8, 2013

The most important thing a subordinate needs to understand is that whenever they get delegated a task, they are also getting delegated reporting on the status of that task. If problems are getting reported at or near the due date, they aren't meeting expectations. Communicate!
posted by bfranklin at 2:45 AM on January 8, 2013

When the new person first arrives, please welcome them warmly and then show them where they can put their coat, lunch, purse/briefcase, etc. FIRST THING! It's ridiculous as a new employee to be carrying your stuff around all morning as you sign paperwork, meet other coworkers, etc. It makes it hard to shake hands with people, makes you worry that your lunch is going bad outside the fridge, just generally makes things awkward. Especially if the person seems to have a purse or bag where they might keep their wallet, it's worth showing them someplace secure they can leave it -- nobody wants to just drop their wallet on their desk chair in a room full of strangers and then go sit in a conference room or your office for 4 hours (even if they might feel comfortable leaving things unattended once they know everybody). If you guys have a coffee machine or a water jug, offer some. Oh, and while you're doing this, point out where the restrooms are.

This is less immediate than giving someone a place to put their things, but it helps to orient the person to the kitchen area. If your group happens to have a certain place where shared food always goes, point it out so the new person doesn't spend weeks wondering, "Am I allowed to have one of these donuts?" If the company supplies some things like coffee and tea, but Jim keeps his own fancy creamer or hot chocolate mix from home in the kitchen too, point out which things are up for grabs so they don't accidentally steal from a coworker. If the fridge gets emptied at 1pm on Tuesdays, warn them so they don't lose a lunch they were really looking forward to.
posted by vytae at 4:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Agree with all of the above. What a new hire is thinking when they first arrive at the job is most likely not about the job itself but about the very basic rules of work. "What is my start time? How long is the lunch break? Where is the lunch room? Where is the bathroom?"

Unless you answer these basic questions first, their mind is going to be racing when you're describing the team organization structure, they won't be paying attention at all - they'll be wondering what they're going to do for lunch and how to ask you where the bathroom is.

It sounds really obvious but I can't tell you how many jobs I've started where the supervisor jumps right in to the nitty gritty while I'm still holding my lunch bag and don't have my bearings yet.
posted by Pademelon at 4:34 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Probably depends on the industry but I found very helpful a list of common acronyms/jargon that get thrown around my office and their meaning.
posted by synecdoche at 5:06 AM on January 8, 2013

1) Gave me enough time to get settled in (I knew the building layout, but not the internal office or my work area)

2) Introductions all around, not just our department but other joint departments in the building

3) Made it clear that I could always schedule a meeting to meet with him, that we would have monthly check-ins, that I could as for help

(not on the first day, but 4) Takes sick time when sick and also schedules doctors appointments. Is sad when we do not use up our vacation time. I think it sets a very healthy example!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:08 AM on January 8, 2013

What are some of the best things that great bosses have done or said on your first day?

The best boss I ever had welcomed me like we were old friends. She was just wrapping up a conversation with someone else as I approached; she saw me and her face lit up, and she greeted me in such a way that indicated that I was a very welcome and valued member of the team. She had never met me before, never seen me, but she was prepared for the new guy to show up, and never missed a beat.

We spent an hour or two together that morning (orientation stuff, walking around meeting people, etc.) and she continued in the same vein - maintaining a buoyant conversational style, rather than simply running through a checklist. We were two adults working together from the very beginning, rather than me being some lower lifeform.

At morning tea time she wrapped it all up by shouting me coffee at the local cafe, where we sat and enjoyed a more informal chat.

There was no pretension; she was totally genuine.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:20 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

At the phone company when you were a Noob, you got a "tub buddy". This was someone who was your mentor. If you had questions, you went to them first. It was nice to have someone identified to be in that role. It meant that the supervisor did supervisor stuff and the "tub buddy" answered stupid questions, held my hand when I did something for the first time and in general made someone responsible for me and my success.

In my current job, my boss gave me a detailed map of our office, with each cube and office identified on it. Nearly two years later I still refer to it for directions to a little used conference room or to the office of a guy I've never met.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:42 AM on January 8, 2013

"If you lie, or if you steal, you will lose your job. If you make a mistake (and I have made more than you can imagine), own it and fix it, with help, if necessary. But do not lie and do not steal"

One of the most effective bosses I have ever had was very clear about the above.
posted by Danf at 8:09 AM on January 8, 2013

Dear god have EVERYTHING set up and have work for them to do. Nothing hard and not too much, but my first WEEK at this job was spent twiddling my thumbs waiting for my computer to be set up. It was desperately boring.

ASK them if they'd like a tour and introduction. I am NOT a people person so the last thing I wanted was to be dragged around and introduced to people. It's overwhelming and there's no way I'd remember everyone's name.

A map is awesome. I created a map of our old office and gave it to new hires and it worked so well that when we moved, a new map was made and given out. There's even a huge one that hangs on the wall now.

We've also got a short but comprehensive list of what each person/unit does and how they fit in with the division. It's handy if you have a question about something specific but don't know who to ask.

Basically give them the tools they need to feel comfortable and succeed right off the bat. Nobody likes to feel out of place and overwhelmed.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:11 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

How many coworkers do you have?

If it's more than a handful, try making a "cheat sheet" with each coworker's name, photo, and position written on it. I'd have killed for this kind of guide when I started my current gig.

There's nothing worse than meeting 50 new coworkers, and not being able to remember their names for the first few weeks (despite them all knowing your's).
posted by schmod at 9:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try not to introduce them to everyone in the building at once, introduce them to 5 or 6 people a day until they've met everyone. I was introduced to *everyone* on my first day and that means everyone knows my name but I have no idea who they are. This is 2 years later. Please take it slow with the introductions.
posted by birdbone at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing that my boss did, after introducing me around, was to have me do sort of a training scavenger hunt. Go talk to Mr. A to learn about X, Mr. B about Y, and Mr. C about Z. The idea was that this spread the pain around for bringing the new guy up to speed and helped familiarize the new guy with the people he'd be working with.
posted by ckape at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2013

A very nice AA put a box of donuts near my cubicle on my first day. Then, in my introductory email, she let everyone know that I was next to the box of donuts.

Almost the whole office stopped by to introduce themselves.
posted by tinymegalo at 6:07 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Professional onboarding. Conducted by someone, probably you, given the apparent size of your org, that knows what is what. Are there processes? Explicate them. Are there tools? Demonstrate them. Are there tricky software things? Walk through them. Care about whether things work. Describe why things are done. Explain the tricky parts. Every place is different, has different protocols and tools -- even senior people are going to want a Rough Guide to the new digs. Junior people even more so.

Take the person to lunch. You went to the trouble to interview this person and hire them, don't let them feel like furniture. You are welcoming them, they are becoming part of your family at work - even more so if it's a small place.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:19 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to jump to suggest flowers or a plant, but I see the (good) point has been made that the person might be allergic! But I think something to brighten up and un-sterilize the physical space would be nice, like some kind of artwork? I know it's simple but this really helped me feel more at ease. After it happened on the first three "first days" I ever had, when it didn't happen on my fourth first day, I really noticed it.

Also agree about taking the person to lunch, or at least a coffee break.
posted by wannabecounselor at 6:49 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first day at my job, my boss told me something like "nothing we do here is an emergency". He let me know that while he expected quality work and deadlines to be met, it wasn't the type of workplace where he expected people to stress out and kill themselves over every little thing. I really appreciated that and still do; we have an extremely small team and we all wear many hats, so it's easy to start to feel overwhelmed and like I should be doing more. On those days where I start to kind of be freaked out by ALL THE WORK it's nice to be able to flash back on that moment and get some perspective.

Obviously does not apply at all workplaces though :)
posted by imalaowai at 8:56 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Many great ideas. Some I adopted, others just weren't applicable to this particular workplace, but all were very thoughtful and sensible. Thanks !
posted by wjm at 2:47 AM on January 9, 2013

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