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Welcoming Without Offending

February 3, 2017

Recently, a client asked for guidance regarding how to incorporate new employees into a workplace where employees have worked together for years and treat one another like family. Many of the employees in this company have spent years working side by side, attending each other’s weddings, watching each other’s kids grow up, and supporting one another through illnesses. The culture of this organization is one of the intangibles that creates employee loyalty and results in low employee turnover.

At this stage in the company’s lifecycle they are beginning to experience change as long-time employees retire and new folks come on board. It would be easy for veteran employees to carry on in their traditional fashion without being aware of what they may be communicating to newcomers. For example, I may be able to say something rather cryptic to a coworker with little explanation because we know each other so well. However, the same words spoken to a stranger with whom I’ve never worked might be interpreted very differently.

Like many things in life, that which is an advantage or a strength, can become a liability when a certain line is crossed. In this case, employees who are very comfortable with one another and have a well-established camaraderie risk making newcomers feel left out, or worse yet, offended.

Hopefully, those of you reading this have an up-to-date anti-harassment policy intended to ensure a harassment-free and discrimination-free workplace. Still you may be unaware of the subtle and unintentional ways the policy is violated. A well-written anti-harassment policy describes behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment such as graphic verbal commentaries about someone’s body or displaying suggestive pictures. But harassment need not be sexual in nature. Our comments or attitudes about a person’s race, religion, color, sex, origin, age, veteran’s status, or disability may also constitute harassment, or at a minimum, be offensive.

Incorporating new employees into your workforce is an opportunity for heightened awareness of things employees say or do that could be misrepresented or offensive to others, especially those who don’t know each other very well. Following are some things any organization can do so newcomers feel welcome, while, at the same time, preserving the organization’s culture.

  • Watch your words – things you discuss with old friends might not be appropriate around others
  • Make them feel part of the team – invite new folks to eat with the group, ask for their input, and listen to them
  • Avoid thinking in terms of “us” and “them” – veterans versus rookies
  • Remember proper business etiquette – ere on the side of being too formal, at least at first

Do you have other tips for integrating newcomers into your workforce? Let us know!