The first 90 days
12 strategies for laying a foundation for a rewarding career while onboarding new employees
The cost of replacing a medic, both financially and in time invested, is steep. Finding and hiring promising candidates is only one piece of the staffing puzzle. In an EMS1 Special Coverage Series, "Year One: Creating a career path for new EMTs," learn how to onboard team members to set them up for long-term success, through the first 90 days, the first 6 months and beyond.
Congratulations on successfully hiring a new employee!
From an organizational perspective, the first 90 days in a new hire’s journey is about getting them oriented to their new role and learning how they impact the success of the organization.
This time is a trial period to evaluate and determine if the employee was a good hire. It’s important to recognize that the new hire is also using this time to evaluate the organization and determine if they feel like they fit in or feel accepted by the organization and its workforce.
Therefore, organizational leaders should ensure their onboarding process is thoughtfully laid out and creates a strong, positive impression that this is a place where the employee can build a career, rather than a stepping-stone to somewhere else.
Unfortunately, some public safety organizations have a history of practices that have been counter-productive in retaining new hires. Some agencies set new hires in a situation where they are meant to prove their worth or that they have earned the right to have a place in the organization. In this type of environment, the new employee feels like an outsider for an extended period, which may trigger doubt about joining the organization and lead them to consider other employment options. Sometimes, hazing behaviors from tenured staff contribute toward alienating new hires and preventing them from assimilating into the organization effectively.
Following are 12 suggested actions to aid organizations in avoiding retention traps that lead new hires to seek out other employment.
Start building an emotional connection
Humans are emotional and socially driven creatures who seek being a part of a community. It’s important to begin establishing an emotional connection with new employees as soon as they have accepted a job offer. A structured onboarding process that begins before their official first day at work initiates a strong emotional bond between the new hire and the organization. This early bond creation increases the likelihood that a new hire’s sense of buyer’s remorse doesn’t suddenly appear in the days leading up to their start, and prevents their sudden withdrawal or absence from orientation.
1. Within a week of the accepted job offer, send a “welcome to the team” card or letter. This doesn’t have to be extravagant, overly emotional or lengthy, but should relay that the organization values the new hire’s decision to join the organization and the team is excited for this new hire to become an integral member of this community of workers. Though an HR representative or other office staff member can send a pre-prepared letter or note, it’s more meaningful if a personal message comes from an executive team member. Receiving a personal note from the chief/CEO or their next-in-command sends an impactful message that the new hire is already an important addition to the organization.
2. To enhance this early emotional bonding, have a team member call the new hire directly. A personal welcome to the organization can also serve to provide information on what to expect on their first day of work and beyond. The team member can be from management, education/training, or even the new hire’s assigned field supervisor or field training officer. The goal is to build excitement and momentum in the employee for selecting your organization to build their career with.
This also gives the new hire an opportunity to ask any questions about the orientation process or schedule.
3. Provide a new hire packet. The following details will help the new hire prepare for a successful start:
- Exactly when and where to report for orientation
- Transportation and parking instructions
- Any dress codes or uniforms required
- The orientation schedule
- Important documents needed to fill out the prerequisite HR/employment forms
Make a strong first impression
Many EMS organizations implement a new hire academy or similar model as the initial stage of orientation. In this forum, new hires are provided an outline of their roles and responsibilities, are introduced to the organization leaders, fill out necessary employment forms, get computer and ID access set up, and complete any educational components to prepare them for their first day in the field.
4. Include a discussion of the organization’s mission, values and goals in orientation. Focus on how the new hire’s efforts factor into these.
Discuss the workplace culture and non-traditional items or activities that illustrate what is special or unique about your organization, e.g., a group of employees who regularly sponsor a family in need during the holidays or who team up for athletic events to raise money for charity; shift breakfasts after work; spontaneous donut deliveries by field supervisors to bring a little enjoyment into the workday; or special work committees that allow frontline personnel to be involved in important business decisions. This helps to instill a firmer sense of commitment within the organization’s community.
5. Don’t forget about the family. Some organizational leaders make it a habit to send a letter to the new hire’s spouse or family, acknowledging the future time sacrifice that this line of work entails and providing gratitude for the time commitment and anticipated missed birthdays/holidays/etc. that this type of work often requires. Acknowledging the sacrifice families make for their EMS provider helps lessen the sting.
Some organizations go so far as to create a family support network through a peer support program and to regularly communicate or check in with families to determine how the organization can help with this transition period.
6. Help new hires get to know their colleagues. Encourage your staff to make the effort to introduce themselves to new hires as soon as the opportunity allows, instead of waiting for their first shift together. This can be done organically when a crew stops into headquarters or similar gathering spot to take care of other routine business. Though the new hire will not be able to remember everyone they’ve met by name, they will walk away with the impression that the organization is made up of staff who are genuinely welcoming them into the community.
7. Provide a line of communication to leadership. Hold meet-and-greets between the new hires and organization leaders to provide access to these individuals who may not be otherwise routinely accessible. Providing the opportunity for new hires to speak directly with leadership demonstrates leaders are dedicated to advancing the organization, but also care about frontline staff. To truly make an impact, schedule follow-up one-on-one meetings between leaders and the new hire to check in on their experience and development throughout their first 90-days and beyond.
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Focus on the individual throughout the established process
Each new hire may have met the same criteria to have obtained a position within your organization, however, each comes with a different set of skills proficiencies, experience level, professional/career ambitions and confidence level.
8. Find the right FTO for each new hire. Focusing on each new hire as an individual begins with pairing them with the best suited FTO. While it may not always be possible, attempt to take into consideration (within HR rules) factors pertaining to experience level, personality, professional involvements or even hobbies. For example, if a new hire’s last EMS agency employment had an EMT/paramedic unit configuration with routine 30-60 minute transport times, they may struggle to wrap their mind around a paramedic/paramedic unit configuration with routine 10-20 minute transports. Pairing them with an FTO with similar prior experience can help the new hire overcome mental processing challenges in how to adapt to a different model.
9. Set a clear line of communication for development questions and grievances. Consider pairing the new hire with a fellow peer (same rank/job class) that has an active interest in onboarding and developing new employees. Most new hires become frustrated in trying to adapt and learn new processes and behaviors if they don’t feel like anyone understands what they are experiencing. A peer who has been assigned to help throughout this period can be a source of reassurance and clarification in concert with the FTO’s efforts. This peer can also help communication patterns between the FTO and new hire, as well as advocate for the new hire when appropriate.
Without a clear line of communication, new hires will randomly seek out a fellow employee to hear any grievances. These instances can put the rumor-mill in motion, and serve little to protect or assist the new hire’s development. Equip the new hire with the verbal tools to manage fellow employee inquiries into their development and to recognize when someone is not in the need-to-know communication circle. The new hire should not feel like they must disclose their struggles to anyone not directly involved with their development plan.
10. Discuss the employee’s professional goals. While the obvious one is to get out of a probationary status, encouraging long-term career thinking from this very early stage sends the message that the organization is planning for them to be around for the long-haul. Discuss with the employee what they believe their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and perceived obstacles to be. What better way to do that than to start planning their career path? Identifying a clear image or rough plan of what comes after probation helps the new hire understand they have professional potential in the organization.
11. Provide the new hire social recognition for milestones achieved during this introductory period. This can be achieved through direct contact via text message, phone call or public recognition in the company newsletter. Some organizations habitually send emails to the entire management team regarding each milestone completion. The new hire’s email is then flooded with congratulatory praise and messages of encouragement. Though this may seem like a small and insignificant gesture, it’s another way to highlight and reinforce the new hire’s sense of belonging in the community.
12. Finally, and importantly, take steps to ensure that fellow employees are not permitted to haze new hires under any circumstances. Despite claims that hazing promotes unity and bonding, it serves to alienate, humiliate and disempower the new hire.
This list of actions is not exhaustive of potential ways to enhance the first 90 days of employment, but should help lay the foundation for creative thinking to establish a stronger emotional bond between new hires and the organization they’ve chosen to serve.