Say “so long” to loneliness – 6 ways to help new hires feel included

Group of coworkers standing and talking

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Starting a new job can be a lot like reliving the awkwardness of junior high – you know, that moment when you step into the cafeteria and wonder where to sit, who to talk to and whether hiding out in the library with a soggy sandwich is a solid strategy for every lunch hour over the next few years. As adults in the workplace, we’ve got our computers, phones and actual work to hide behind, but many of us still feel insecure and awkward, especially when starting a new job.

Today 40% of adults in America (and half of CEOs) report feeling lonely. In a Harvard Business Review article, Vivek H. Murthy defines loneliness as “the subjective feeling of having inadequate social connections” and shares research that found loneliness to be just as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The first few weeks at a new job are when we feel most vulnerable – and significantly more likely to leave. It’s no wonder that one in three workers would rather go on an awkward first date than attend orientation or onboarding for a new job. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There are countless ways you can make new hires feel welcomed and appreciated, whether it’s on an individual, team or company basis.

Here are some tips for making relationship-building a key part of your new hire onboarding and showing your new hires how much you care about their well-being.

1. Have new hires start as a cohort rather than alone

One of the easiest ways to create a sense of community is to have all new hires go through their onboarding experience together. By creating a cohort that will learn about your company together over the course of their first several days or weeks, you provide an opportunity for this group to foster friendships and connections. Several companies, like PolicyGenius, Airbnb and Elastic, do this intentionally. Global Head of Employee Experience at Airbnb Mark Levy says, “We create belonging by enabling them to form a group that hopefully stays together as they progress here through their careers.” If you have a central headquarters, consider inviting all new hires to participate in onboarding there so they have a chance to become familiar with your company culture and meet people from other teams. Get more ideas for how to set up a new hire cohort here.

2. Pair new hires with tenured employees in a “buddy system”

When you’re a new hire, it can be hard to know the unwritten rules and norms of your organization, whether it involves the protocol for taking a coffee break, booking a meeting or a million little things in between. Most new hires are curious about these aspects of company culture, but may feel uneasy bringing them up with their manager. A “buddy system” that pairs new hires with more tenured employees creates a safe space where new hires can feel comfortable asking anything. We also recommend setting up a schedule for the first few weeks so the buddy is committed to taking the new hire out for lunch, showing them around the office and making sure they’ve met everyone.

3. Encourage employees to seek out connections with coworkers

In addition to fostering workplace friendships, your onboarding program can encourage cross-team communication and collaboration as well. As part of the 30/60/90-day plan, managers can list out a few key individuals from other teams and departments they think the new hire should meet, either because they’ll be working together directly or so they can share insights into ways specific parts of the organization work. You can also encourage new hires to seek out these types of meetings. Some companies even take it a step further and provide gift cards to their nearest café so new hires can treat someone to a coffee or tea break.

4. Involve people from all levels in onboarding

While we’re sure your People team is awesome, your onboarding program will be so much more powerful if it involves people throughout your organization. Think about it: No one will be able to speak about your marketing strategy and philosophy more passionately than your head of marketing. Similarly, leaders from your Employee Resource Groups are the best people to share what they’ve been working on and extend a personal invitation to new hires. Plus, when leaders throughout the company take time out of their schedules to meet with new hires and answer their questions, it reinforces the idea that you truly care about all employees. You can take this a step further and have your CEO or other executives meet with new hires, either individually or in small groups. At Greenhouse, for example, President Jon Stross kicks off the first session of new hire onboarding and CEO Daniel Chait has breakfast with new hires during their first few months on the job, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and share insights more tenured employees might not have. Get more ideas in 6 ways to involve your entire company in new hire onboarding.

5. Make proper (and thought-provoking) introductions

Meeting dozens of new people in one day can be intimidating and overwhelming, so consider different ways of introducing new hires to their team, department and other coworkers. Some managers send out an email or company-wide chat to let everyone know about the new person joining their team. If you have a product like Greenhouse Onboarding, employees get notified about new hires and prompted to check out their profiles and connect with them on LinkedIn and internal social channels like Slack. Office managers can also take initiative and welcome your new employees via email or chat. On the team level, dedicate some time to getting to know each other. Go out for lunch as a group. Play an icebreaker like two truths and a lie, or ask each person to share a fun fact about themselves or describe their spirit animal. Or organize a team-building outing during a new hire’s first few weeks. Look for ways that allow new hires to connect on both an individual and team basis.

6. Give them the keys to the (social media) kingdom

Some companies, like VaynerMedia, have a private Instagram account that’s just for employees. New hires can catalog their first week on the job through photos and stories. This not only helps them build relationships with their new colleagues, but it also lets them participate in company culture in a way that’s uniquely suited to VaynerMedia. Check out the “Building a business-driven onboarding program” presentation to learn more. Consider whether a similar setup could work at your company, and keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a social media account – new hires could contribute to your internal newsletter, blog or any other communication channel.

We might never fully erase the butterflies and awkwardness new hires feel on their first day, but we can definitely diminish those feelings and bolster community through intentional onboarding. Creating connection in the workplace from the very beginning will pay off with happier and healthier employees. And what’s not to love about that?

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.