Daryl Keeley (@hrcoach) explains how to avoid scaring your new employees away.

Recently this business owner of 25 years spent a confronting day as a “work experience chef” in a busy regional restaurant.

As a director of a two office based companies, I was thrown into a totally new environment, causing me to experience what I had managed to avoid for most of my life –what it feels like to start a new job.

It is an experience I thoroughly recommend for any manager wishing to retain loyal staff.

It reminded me how much value a fresh set of eyes can be to a business, and how easy it is for a new employee and their manager to make wrong judgements of each other.

The first day as a new employee is a make or break experience. I wanted to help, to not stuff things up and avoid getting in the way. My boss wants to see that I have got that X-factor to be a long term asset to the business. I’ve got 4 hours. YES CHEF!

All day a little voice kept saying “Can I do this? Is this the right place for me?”

Knowing how the manager would be instinctively evaluating me compounded my emotions. Each small word of encouragement I got, each grumpy glance I saw, each slight mistake I made I reviewed ad-nauseam. Was he just being nice when he said it’s ok? Am I wearing the right clothes? Was I a bit too cheeky? Were those melon balls placed correctly?

Like all shiny new employees, I wanted to work within a crack team giving excellent service. I noticed that some employees were getting away with doing things that looked a bit average. The décor could do with a makeover. I could see the ticketing system could be improved. The customer experience could also be improved. Was it my place to say anything yet? Maybe I should wait until I get more street cred within the team. That little voice was speaking again.

What I, and indeed all of us managers, must remember is that day one of a new employee is not just for us to evaluate their skills and attitude – it’s also to help the new guy navigate the emotions of the day so they want to come back. Here are some simple day one etiquette rules that should stop you scaring new starters away:

  1. Let them know before they start what to wear to work, even if it’s a mufti day every day. If nose rings, visible tats are out, best this is explained upfront. It stopped me rushing out to an all-night chef clothing store.
  2. Assign a buddy. This means that only one person gets the random questions – ideally the person that knows the answers. It stopped me from asking the barman where the soup ladle was. It also made me feel I could ask stupid questions. More importantly I felt that the kitchen was well run. There was a spot when things got so busy that I forgot half of what I’d been shown. Fortunately having a reassuring voice nearby gave me confidence.
  3. Create calmness. Staff running from crisis to crisis sends a message that the place is not managed well. A broken hot water service could be a major catastrophe, but seeing a calm manager dealing with it gracefully – now that’s a leader I’d like to work for.
  4. Encourage fun. One of my favourite corporate values is “Don’t be dickhead”. If your team are having a joke and getting things done then you’ve got a well-oiled machine. Now I feel part of a team. It’s even better when we spend some time getting to know each other. Go Hawks!
  5. Keep me busy. Sometimes I found myself with nothing to do. It was like running fingers down a blackboard. As a manager, I tend to think that if you have nothing to do, then you don’t know your job well enough. I suddenly had newfound pride in completing menial jobs such as emptying a bowl into a pipping bag or cutting parsley. At least I was helping.
  6. Keep me thinking. At some point I found my initiative being sidelined as it was easier to ask trivial questions as “I’m still new”. This could send the wrong message to the boss. I’m sure he wasn’t impressed when I asked “what’s the safest way to empty this bowl?” It did not help my case, when after he replied “you’re a smart guy I am sure you can figure it out”, I suddenly went blank.

Two weeks later I am safely back in the office. I suspect working as a full-time chef is not for me. I’ll stick to feeding friends and family at home. Maybe I’ll take a part-time job on the weekend? Maybe – as soon as I can stop replaying my work experience day.