Getting it right - the new starter experience

Written by Anna-Maria Wade, Manager – ACSA Employee Relations.

01 Jun 2021

I recently had cause to make an interstate trip, flying for the first time since early 2020. I had a while to wait at the airport and treated myself to a glass of wine. I placed my order for a small glass of Pinot Noir with an employee, “John”, behind the bar.  John looked to be about 18 or 19 and had the air of a new starter. Things began to unravel for John when he couldn’t find the wine as a menu item to bill me. John could have at that point let me know he was new and wasn’t familiar with the routine however he didn’t. He hailed another employee, “Steve”, who appeared to be a supervisor. Steve waved his hand quickly over the touch screen, said “there it is” and walked away.

John looked at me, smiled, said “won’t be a moment” and proceeded to pick up a middy glass. He scanned the various taps, in search of my wine. Now, I have seen wine served from taps in various establishments however never into a middy glass!

Steve looked over and saw John frantically searching for the right tap and said from a distance of about 2 metres, something like “hey mate, Pinot Noir is a wine and you use a wine glass”. I was really feeling for poor John, his face reddening with embarrassment.

John found the bottle behind the bar and started pouring. And pouring and pouring. John either did not know or had forgotten how to pour a glass of wine and where to stop for the small size. I suggested he slow up and look at the marks on the glass which indicated small and large. John proceeded to tip some of the wine down the drain. I was quietly horrified. Steve came over when he saw John tipping the wine out, laughed and said to me “you can have a big glass today”. I smiled and thanked both John and Steve. Patrons lining up behind me were giggling. I couldn’t help but feel for John and thought what a terrible experience that was for him on what could have been his very first shift.

I sat down at a table and drank (some of) my wine, contemplating the events that had just unfolded and how I would be feeling if I were in John’s shoes. I reckon I would have been embarrassed, feeling inadequate, unsupported and thinking “what am I doing here?”. I got to thinking about some of my own experiences as a new recruit (aged 15-23): in retail as an after school/weekends casual; a casual uni job as a call centre operator; and my first graduate role in a busy laboratory.

I was truly fortunate in each of these early career roles: I was trained on the job, assessed and supervised when required and until I hit my stride. There was never an assumption that I knew how to do the job before I started. My employers knew my literacy and numeracy were satisfactory and that I could communicate – ascertained through screening at the selection stage of the employment process.

Thinking about the aged care industry and the many constraints squeezing providers and staff for more with less, I wonder about the experience for new starters like John. Particularly those new recruits who are fresh out of a Certificate III or a degree in Nursing. They might be in their late teens or early twenties and have some basic work experience in retail, hospitality or aged care/health (if you’re lucky). They will also have some experience gained through their practical placement hours. It is very unlikely however that they will know how to do the job they’ve been employed to do in its entirety.

It is critical that employers establish clear orientation, on the job training and feedback processes for new employees. Whilst we can’t hold a new recruit’s hand forever, it is critical we set them, and our organisations, up for success and provide the best possible support for this to occur. Buddying new recruits (including those who have prior experience but are new to your workplace) with other staff is commonplace and a great practice, especially if the buddy is trained in providing basic coaching and feedback to the recruit where required.

It is important to establish with all new recruits (experienced and inexperienced) that part of the new starter experience is indeed the giving and receiving of feedback which sometimes may be critical but important for growth and success in their new role. The ACSA Employee Relations team hears regularly from members that new staff (both younger and older people) are not accepting of constructive feedback and become defensive, even asserting that they’ve been bullied. Training all staff regularly in communication, including what is/is not bullying and harassment and how to deliver and receive feedback, can overcome this to some extent as can regular reminders about the importance of good communication. 

Recruitment and orientation of staff is an expensive and time-consuming exercise and if not done right can result in poor performance, poor morale and increased staff turnover. It is critical to have sound processes in place and to monitor the effectiveness of your induction/orientation program, checking in with new and existing staff periodically and utilising their feedback to continually improve what you are doing with the ultimate aim of growing and retaining a committed and quality workforce. This of course aligns with Standard 7 Human Resources - Outcome 3(d).

ACSA’s Workforce & Industry Development Unit can assist members with strategies to successfully attract and retain employees. Please get in touch via email or phone 1300 877 855 for support.