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Is your new hire fitting in?

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‘Social capital’ – or how well your new hire forms relationships at work – is critical to their job satisfaction, a new study has suggested.

Research published in the Human Resources journal found most organisations overlook how new hires fit into the workplace culture, but the social, political and cultural sphere of the work environment has a very strong influence over employee learning and performance.

“There is a relational structure that is very powerful in the work group, but it’s not given much recognition and it’s typically ignored or under-valued in how we help newcomers learn to do their jobs,” said researcher Russell Korte, a professor of human resource development in the College of Education at the University of Illinois.

“New hires tend to learn the norms of their work mostly through trial and error, and then we wonder why some people are not performing or integrating very well.”

Korte said employers traditionally blame the new person for not learning how to fit in when, in fact, the culture or the relational structure of the work group is part of the problem.

The research suggests a new hires’ socialisation is a “communal process” and not solely the responsibility of the employee’s manager.

“In many cases, the new hires in the study had very little contact with their managers, and the vast majority of their learning and interaction was with their co-workers,” said Korte.

In the study, Korte and research partner Shumin Lin, interviewed 30 recently-hired engineers at a manufacturing company that had been struggling with high attrition rates among new hires, examining the impact the social capital embedded in work groups’ social relationships had on the new employees.

For the engineers, learning how to perform job tasks was highly dependent on their knowledge and understanding of the formal and informal social systems in the workplace.

Higher quality relationships also translated into greater access to information and resources that enhanced their job performance and eased their transition from “outsider” to “insider” status.

The study also found new hires benefit from having an informal mentor who can give them insight into any “unwritten rules”.

Experienced professionals often have difficulty integrating unless they can unlearn old habits, the study found.

Korte suggested any organisations that promote a “sink or swim” approach should re-evaluate their orientation process.

“I think there’s a very strong message for industry and education about how we’re preparing people to go out into the working world,” he said.

“Social/cultural/ political systems really have a huge effect on how people learn and work, and they’re often underestimated or underappreciated in what higher education is teaching students to do.”

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