By Ed Frauenheim and Nancy Ceseña.
Warm receptions are a secret weapon to thrive across a recession
Hospitality isn’t usually considered a critical business capability, at least not beyond the hotel and restaurant industries.
But it turns out that making people feel at home is a key to surviving and thriving amid downturns.
Great Place to Work® research into the Great Recession of 2007-2009 discovered that how welcomed employees felt when changing jobs and teams is a predictor of company performance.
Feeling welcomed to new work units was one of five areas of the employee experience that distinguished companies that outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 4x before, during and after the Great Recession.
Why is a warm reception for new members crucial in a downturn?
Our finding about the link between welcoming teams and financial performance reflects the growing importance of team effectiveness to business success as well as the crucial role of psychological safety in a workgroup.
What’s more, teams often are volatile in a recession. Their make-up and purpose can change rapidly as strategies and company structures shift amid uncertainty. Whether hiring new people or shifting existing employees onto new teams, the tone is set early.
An inviting team climate cultivates engagement and best efforts. A cold greeting fosters indifference or worse.
Here’s what an employee from a company that fared poorly in the Great Recession told us:
“Don't bully people into changing jobs or positions without consideration of what they want to do. Give the employee input on whether they want to change jobs or positions. You come back from vacation or time away from work and they've changed your job ‘for you.’”
How willing do you think that employee is to give their all for the new team or organization?
When possible, people ought to be joining new teams on a purely voluntary basis. Or they ought to have a say in the decision-making around where they land in the organization. Such approaches provide a foundation for a warm welcome to a new group.
Especially in a crisis, organizations may have to assign people to different teams quickly and without their input. But as the frustration in the employee quote above indicates, involuntary moves make it doubly important for teams and leaders to make new members feel at home as much as possible.
How to make new team members feel welcome
Recognize the impact of a new member
When a team takes on a new member, it’s said that it becomes a new team entirely. The first step in warmly welcoming people to new job roles and work units is to acknowledge they are changing the group dynamic—and viewing that shift positively.
New teammates will sniff out if their arrival is met with grudging acceptance —or worse— active hostility. Senior leaders can help set a tone of organizational agility, one that embraces ongoing change and prepares people to reset team norms and responsibilities frequently.
One way to do this is to have an introductory meeting that spotlights the skills and experience of the new teammate, the talents and contribution of each continuing team member and reframes the group's capabilities overall.
Another is with a quarterly team “summits,” where everyone revisits the group’s purpose, takes stock of progress towards goals and the newest members are invited to share their “beginner’s mind” observations on what’s working and what could be better.
Adjust your welcoming efforts for the virtual world
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are onboarding employees and moving existing staffers to new teams remotely. Take the same, if not, more level of care and intentionality around connecting people to each other and to the business.
For example, you can do a virtual version of the oldie-but-goodie welcome lunch. Have everyone gather in front of Zoom for that introductory meal.
This is a perfect time not only to draw attention to the professional strengths of new and continuing members, but also invite people to share a bit about their interests and talents beyond work. Those personal bonds are vital and can be harder to build in a remote setting.
Also, it’s more important in a remote work world for leaders to check in frequently with the new member. Team leaders also can proactively set up one-on-one meetings between the newbie and existing team members.
Don’t tie all your perks to tenure
It sends a powerful message of inclusion when new employees get to enjoy many or all of a company’s perks and benefits the day they join the company.
Some of the Best Workplaces™, like hotel giants Marriott and Hilton, convey that all employees are equally valued and welcome by getting rid of separate dining rooms for executives or elevating the quality of break rooms for everyone.
Great Place to Work itself signals its hospitality to all new employees with what we call the “Get a Life Fund.” This is an annual gift of several hundred dollars designed to help staffers pursue a passion outside of work. Every employee gets the same amount of money, including new hires, who get the check on their first day of work.
Actively seek their ideas and involvement in decision-making
Perhaps the most powerful way you can show a new teammate that they are welcome is by sharing power with them from the get-go. Instead of making newbies “prove” themselves, trust them to make positive contributions beginning on day one.
A willingness to seek ideas from, and share power with, new teammates is a skill shown by what we call “For All” leaders. These leaders tend to cultivate the most innovative teams. That’s partly because they are often bringing in the ideas of new team members.
Be mindful of diversity, inclusion and equity
Leaders ought to be sensitive of the needs of people of color joining teams—as well as of the power of having more than one person from an underrepresented group.
Welcoming leaders focus on building trusting relationships with everyone—largely through listening and learning about different experiences.
The power of welcoming teams
Earlier, we heard from an employee who described moving to a new team as a form of bullying. By contrast, consider this quote from an employee at a company that thrived during the last recession:
“When I joined the company, I was very impressed with how my entire department, and people from other departments, went out of their way to welcome me. The whole onboarding process was very well put together and very informative for a new employee. I hope to be here for many, many years.”
That’s the effect of a warm reception. An energized, devoted employee.
The kind of employee who can help their team and your organization succeed even in today’s tough climate.
Our research reveals that diversity and inclusion are vital to soaring through a recession. To get our full insights and guidance, download our report on D&I and recessions here.